Vol.2, No.12, 1349-1365 (2010) Health
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. Openly accessible at http://www.scirp.org/journal/HEALTH/
Emotional categorization: individual emotional
differences and laterality effects in healthy and
persons with multiple sclerosis
Farzaneh Pahlavan1*, Tudd Lubart2, Michelle Montreuil3, Stephen Jacob2, Anne-Yves
Jacquet2, Christelle Lemoine2, Hélène Petropoulou3, Franck Zenasni2
1Laboratoire de Psychologie Sociale, Université Paris Descartes, Boulogne, France;
*Corresponding Author: farzaneh.pahlavan@parisdescartes.fr;
2Laboratoire de Psychologie et Neurosciences Cognitives – CNRS, Université Paris Descartes, Boulogne, France;
3Equipe de Recherche en Psychologie Clinique, Université Paris 8 Saint-Denis, Paris, France.
Received 1 October 2010; revised 20 October 2010; accepted 25 October 2010
A study examining affective information
processing in persons with Multiple Sclerosis
and healthy adults was carried out. It was hy-
pothesized that individual characteristics could
modulate participants’ emotional categorization
and reaction times for categorization decisions.
For example, individuals w ith negative valenced
emotional profile (e.g. anxious) should choose
negative emotional alternatives faster and more
frequently. Participants consisted of two differ-
ent populations: 80 right-handed healthy
French-speakers, and 40 right-handed French-
speakers with multiple sclerosis. The results
showed a positive correlation between high-
level of negative emotional sensibility and emo-
tional categorization (decision and decision
speed) for affective information presented on
the right-side of the screen. For all participants
there were more fre quent emo tional choices a nd
faster decis ions for left-side prese nted em ot io na l
alternatives. It seems individuals’ emotional dif-
ferences in general and in MS populations mo-
dulate hemispheric asymmetry of processing
emotional judgments.
Keywords: Emotion; Categorization; Hemisphe ric
Asymmetry; Individual Emotional Differences;
Multiple Sclerosis
There are numerous ways in which emotions and af-
fective processes shape and organize cognitiv e activities.
Some studies demonstrated creative, explorative beha-
vior under positive mood and careful, error-avoidance
behavior for negative mood (e.g. [1-5]; see also [6]). It
has been also reported that emotional states can enhance
high-level cognitive control [7], focus attentional re-
sources, influencing encoding and organization of new
information [8], and facilitating access to information
previously acquired [9,10]. The influence of mental re-
presentation of affective reactions on the accessibility of
concept and knowledge has been also suggested [11,6].
Individual differences seem also be related to emo-
tional reactivity and processing information, specifically
emotional-relevant information (e.g. [12-14]). Our know-
ledge of the ways in which individual differences and
personality traits are associated with different affective
and cognitive processes has grown considerably in re-
cent years (e.g. [12-14] see also [6]). For example, it has
been shown that typical happy people perceive, categor-
ize, and retrieve pleasant information more readily, more
easily than typical unhappy people, and may even in-
terpret ambiguous stimuli more favorably [15,16]. In the
same manner, an anxiety-related responses bias [17] and
also an attention bias resulting in interpretation of am-
biguous stimuli as threatening ones have been noticed in
typical anxious individuals [18]. Therefore, researchers
have proposed hypotheses about the affective- con-
gruency [19] and trait-congruency [20].
Nevertheless, less work has been devoted to uncover-
ing the basic factors of these influences, considering
neuropsychological evidence in analyzing individual dif-
ferences and affective-cognitive processes. In th e last few
years, however, this situation has begun to change. Con-
siderable evidence demonstrated that individual differ-
ences, for example, in temperament are associated with
F. Pahlavan et al. / Health 2 (2010) 1349-1365
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differences in brain and peripheral physiological func-
tioning (see [13,7]). Findings from some studies suggest
that alexithymia (less ability to identify and communicate
feelings) could be investigated as a continuous personal-
ity trait associated with either the interhemispheric trans-
fer of information [21] or the relative development and
activation of the two hemispheres in non-clinical and
clinical populations ([22]; but see [23]) or as a syndrome
related to some psychiatric disturbance such as Multiple
Sclerosis. Therefore, individual differences in processing
emotional stimuli provide a potentially rich source of
information about the relationship between emotion and
cognition, in normal people but also in individuals suf-
fering from neurobiological impairment. To the extent
that we understand the functions of these systems, we
will be in a better position to develop more selective
therapies that are targeted for the specific brain networks
involved in regulation of the specific aspects of emotion-
al psycho-pathologi cal funct i ons.
The present study focuses on cognitive performance
in terms of emotional categorization in the general pop-
ulation, and also considers a clinical sample of patients
suffering from multiple sclerosis. We examine the extent
to which information processing depends on stable emo-
tional-related individual differences and also lateralized
nature of these processes. After reviewing some evi-
dence concerning categorization processes of affec-
tive-relevant information, we focus on hemispheric
asymmetries involved in processing of emotional cate-
gorization, and the potential role of emotion-related in-
dividual differences. Finally, we report the results of our
study designed to examine these relatio nships.
Categorization, identification and grouping of entities
into sets, is a basic cognitive process. Category learning
and using depend on selective attention to category- re-
levant stimulus features (shape, size, etc.) inherent to
objects that are perceptually similar [24,25] or share a
theory of cause and effect [26-28] that serve a common
goal (e.g. [29]). The idea that individual's subjective
experiences and motivations could be used for grouping
objects together has been also considered [30].
Distinguishing between cognitions about one’s affec-
tive reactions (its mental representations) and the affec-
tive reactions per se, it has been proposed that affect
increases the accessibility in memory of semantic con-
cepts and knowledge represen tatio n s of the same valence
([8,19]; see [6]) and also increases the likelihood of
thinking about information related to these concepts.
This increased attention might be reflected in (a) longer
time spent reading and thinking about the emotional
information than neutral ones, (b) better memory for the
information, and (c) therefore greater influence of the
information on judgments to which it is relevant [31].
However, in spite of association between positive affect
with holistic and negative affect with piecemeal
processing strategies, and greater automatic allocation of
attention towards negative information, it seems people
are motivated to maintain their happy mood and to di-
vest themselves of the negative events that give rise to
negative feelings [32]. Consequently, compared to nega-
tive information, time spent reading and thinking about
positive information could be longer.
Based on these assumptions, it has been proposed that
the objects and events that elicit the same emotion in a
given perceiver lead to a mental grouping of those ob-
jects and events, as instances of the same category. Re-
search by Niedenthal and her colleagues [10,16,30,33,
34] bear on this matter. Accordingly, emotions could
lead individuals to reorganize temporarily their concep-
tual space in function of the common evoked emotion.
Thus, a category of objects and events that have elicited
same emotional state (e.g. sadness) may be treated as
equivalent and categorized as the same sort of the things,
regardless of their perceptual, functional or theory dif-
ferences. Thereby, perceivers’ understanding of the mean-
ing of a particular category exemplar would be facili-
tated in terms of their own personal learning histories.
This reorganization then determines how people perce-
ive similarities and differences among objects and events.
In the same way, the autho rs suggested that those differ-
ences in processing emotional-relevant information
could be more noticeable in individuals with specific
emotional trait (e.g. anxious, depressives at clinical or
non-clinical level; [16 ]).
Nevertheless, although there is a good deal of evi-
dence regarding affective-congruency of processing posi-
tive information, these congruency effects are not ob-
served for negative information [35,36]. In a study Nie-
denthal, Halberstadt and Innes-Ker [30] used a categori-
zation task (45 triads (a principal concept and two other
concepts) of happy (9), sad (9), and neutral words (27))
in which participants were induced or not (control con-
dition) to feel either happy or sad by having them
watching a film for 12-15 minutes prior to a categoriza-
tion task, so called triad task. Then while listening a mu-
sic of the same valence, they performed a triad task in
which a number of positively (related to happiness e.g.
puppy, celebration, etc.), negatively (related to sadness
e.g. cancer, divorce, etc.) valenced triads of words or
neutral ones were presented. The results showed that the
participants in emotion al states (happy or sad) compared
to those in a con trol condition, used more frequently the
happy concepts as basis for their categorization deci-
sions. But whatever the valence of their emotional state
(happy, sad or neutral), they all responded in the same
F. Pahlavan et al. / Health 2 (2010) 1349-1365
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way to the sad concepts presented in the absence of
happy ones (no differences related to emotional states).
According to the authors, the sad concepts, when pre-
sented in the absence of the happy ones, (a) either sug-
gested sadness as a basis for categorization, (b) or al-
tered the emotional state of control participants. An
eventual (c) semantic priming effect has been suggested
too. In this sense, according to the authors the experi-
mental affective manipulation could prime generic
knowledge about emotions [8]. Therefore, it would be
the concepts or mental representations of emotion and
not experience of emotion which influence emotional
categorization of the negative information.
If generic knowledge about emotion is contextually
(emotion induction procedure) or chronically (typical
emotional reactivity) primed, it might be such a priming
and not the induced emotional state itself or emotional
experience which enhances the tendency for individuals
to group together concepts on the basis of their emotion-
al equivalence, specifically in the case of negative va-
lenced information. So, it is possible to propose that
negative informatio n captures au to matically th e atten tion
of perceivers [37], and is processed in a specific manner.
Consistent with this idea are information-processing
models of fear [involving activation of the amygdale,
[38] according to which the emotional significance of
incoming information is pre-consciously assessed by a
threat evaluation system [39,40]. Information judged to
be threatening is then treated in priority [41], and per-
haps without any retrieval of emotional experience.
Indeed, one of the most promising areas in research on
emotions is work on the underlying neural substrates
involved in processing emotional information. More
interesting, recent evidence revealed preferential use of
the left or right visual hemifield affecting everyday be-
havior (e.g. activities such as searching for food, agonis-
tic responses, or escape from predators) in natural envi-
ronment of a variety of species (from fish to mammals;
(see [42]). In human, in addition to well-established hy-
pothesis regarding speech production as a left hemis-
phere task, lateralization of emotion processing is an
ongoing debate. However, processing different aspects
of emotional information seems to involve differential
activation of the left or right hemispheres [43]. Based on
comparison between right brain damaged patients and
intact subjects, a number of investigators have found
right hemisphere specialization for the identification of
emotional words and sentences [44], especially negative
ones [45]. Consistent evidence is the faster reaction
times when participants were expo sed to negative words
presented in the left visual field. For positive words,
reaction times were faster when presented in the right
visual field ([46]; see also [47]).
Other studies provide some evidence for cerebral he-
misphere asymmetries in categorization processes [48].
It has been shown that the typicality of instances had a
large effect on categorization times in the left visual field,
suggesting that the right hemisphere relies strongly on a
prototypical-based comparison strategy [49]. The left
hemisphere seems to be able to categorize on the basis of
exemplar-based category knowledge [50,51].
Interaction between affect and cognition as two modes
of psychological functioning appears, therefore, to be
linked to hemispheric asymmetries of the processing of
emotional-relevant information, which is according to
Davidson [13] more functional than structural [13].
Nevertheless, the organization and localization of affec-
tive treatment remains to be firmly established. Within
this general area, the study of cerebral lateralization and
individuals’ affective-based differences is of particular
Some of the inconsistencies and controversies that
mark the literature regarding asymmetrical processing of
emotional information could be explained in terms of
individual differences. Individuals’ affective-based dif-
ferences may influence asymmetric processing of infor-
mation in different ways. For example, association of
different temperamental styles with asymmetric activity
of frontal cortex has been suggested (see [43]). Com-
pared with individuals displaying higher left prefrontal
activation, those with higher activation in right prefron-
tal regions report more dispositional negative affect.
Some studies demonstrated that depression and impul-
sivity were associated with a decreased activation in the
left-prefrontal region [52,53], whereas anxiety was asso-
ciated with an increase in the right prefrontal region [54].
Experimental studies have shown that alexithymia was
common among patients with a right-hemisphere lesion
Although, alexithymia was initially identified as a
syndrome for clinical patients, recent works revealed
that its features might be observed in nonclinical popula-
tions, too. And in spite of increasing number of perso-
nality traits identified as being involved in processing
emotional information [55,57-61 ], alexithymia offers the
most interesting condition to analyze relation between
emotional aspects of personality and asymmetrical
processing of emotional information in terms of psycho-
logical functions in clinical as well as nonclinical popu-
Recent works focused on alexithymia have proposed
different hypotheses to explain it in structural and func-
tional terms (see [23]). In structural terms, one neural
hypothesis suggests that alexithymia is related to poor
interhemispheric transfer, in normal as well as clinical
populations [21,23,62]. Another hypothesis associates it
F. Pahlavan et al. / Health 2 (2010) 1349-1365
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with a poor right hemisphere activity [22]. Actually, stu-
dies in psychiatric field have revealed, in patients and
some normal subjects, an interhemispheric cerebral tran s-
fer deficit [63-65]. However, neuropsychological studies
have shown that patients with brain damage in the right
hemisphere perform worse than patients with brain dam-
age in the left hemisphere when processing and organiz-
ing emotional experience [66,67]. In functional terms,
alexithymia represents a unique personality trait that
might predispose individuals to somatic and mental dis-
orders [68]. The psychological studies have highlighted
that alexithymia is correlated with both anxiety and de-
pression [68,69]. It has also been found that alexthymic
individuals use more emotional words, specifically the
negative ones. These underline the possibility th at alexi-
thymia might be a cop ing or defense mechanism utilized
for life-threathening situations [68], and thus invo lved in
processing of negative information.
However, alexithymic features are also associated
with psychopathology and certain neurological syndr o mes ,
such as multiple sclerosis (MS; demyelinating disease of
the central nervous system disrupting neural transmis-
sion). The case of MS is of particular interest to re-
searchers because of its close neurological and psy-
chopathological correspondence to those resulted from
alexithymia in general. Alexithymia is more frequently
reported in MS patients (50%) compared to general pop-
ulation (8%) [70]. Cognitive and emotional disturbances
in the early stages of MS have been frequently described
in terms of high frequency of affective incontinence and
lability. Although, these abnormalities are not directly
related to depressive states [71], depression and anxiety
are frequently reported in the case of MS (The Goldman
Consensus Group, [72,73]). Explosive laughing or cry-
ing, and euphoria are also observed in individuals with
MS [74]. Such variation provides a potentially rich and
relatively untapped source of information enabling
comparison of clinical and non-clinical populations
based on relationships between emotional aspects of
personality and asymmetrical processing of emotional
The primary aim of the present study was to examine
lateralized cerebral processing in a triad task as a func-
tion of individuals’ affective-based characteristics. Our
second objective was to evaluate the exten t to which the
pathological deficits in processing emotional informa-
tion might interfere in lateralized cerebral processing of
emotional-relevant information. Because of their partic-
ular emotional and neurobiological characteristics, the
patients suffering from multiple sclerosis were chosen
for our comparative study of emotional information
Many studies reported for these patients an emotional
profile marked by affective lability, with high prevalen ce
of depression (60%) [75,76] and anxiety (37%) [77]. As
mentioned before, compared to general population, ale-
xithymia is 6 times more frequent in MS patients. Some
studies demonstrated dysfunction of interhemispheric
transfer (callosal dysfunction) in MS patients, too [70].
In general, this kind of functional impairment is corre-
lated to the degree of corpus callosal atrophy and the
severity of diffusion of white matter changes identified
by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Few studies
suggest the potential clinical value of callosal involve-
ment and alexithymia and its interest as a model to study
interhemispheric disconnection (e.g. [23,70]), specifi-
cally in MS patients.
Usually, impaired information processing in individu-
als diagnosed with multiple s clerosis is mild or moderate,
and mainly affects working memory and processing time,
through which inhibition and interpretation capacities
[78]. The causal mechanisms of these affective-cognitive
i mpaired relationships are not w ell known. Neuroan a to mi c
account suggests that both gray and white cerebral mat-
ter atrophies contribute to neuropsycho logical deficits in
MS [79]. The role of atrophied corpus callosum leading
to intra- and inter-hemispheric disconnection has been
also suggested. Considering the studies published to date,
which have reported specific affective and cognitive
psychological impaired processes associated with this
disease, and the importance of these processes in emo-
tional categorization involving working memory, we
decided to assess and compare the performance of indi-
viduals with multiple sclerosis with a non-clinical popu-
lation. We believe that comparative stud ies of such cases
might provide new perspectives on the relation between
cognitive neuropsychology and social-personality psy-
In the case of the present study we address the ques-
tion: How individuals’ emotional characteristics could
influence their emotional response categorization (group-
ing together stimuli, e.g. words, related to the emotion of
the same valence), and if these influences could be asso-
ciated with hemispheric asymmetries. More precisely we
predicted an association between higher frequencies of
emotional choices and shorter time decisions for left
sided presentation of negative emotional words for indi-
viduals with higher scores on anxiety, depression, and
alexithymia scales. Our second hypothesis was focused
on comparison of the data from non-clinical individuals
to those of MS patients. Because of their psychological
and neuropsychological profiles, and also their impair-
ment in processing emotional-relevant information, we
predicted higher frequencies of choices and shorter time
F. Pahlavan et al. / Health 2 (2010) 1349-1365
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decisions for right sided presentation of neutral words
considered as emotional in MS patients compared with
non-clinical individuals. However, regarding emotional
words, lower frequencies of emotional choices and faster
time decisions were predicted for MS patients, compared
with non-clinical individuals specifically in the case of
left sided presentation of negative words.
2.1. Method
2.1.1. Participant s Non-Clinical Population
Eighty right-handed (male n = 34 and female n = 46)
native French-speakers aged between 20 to 59 years (M
= 33.43 years, SD = 9.67 years) were recruited by an-
nouncements published in local newspapers to partici-
pate in a paid study.
Upon arrival at the laboratory, a brief description of
the experimental procedure was given. The subject was
then asked to complete a consent form and questionnaire
concerning medications and drug use. The subjects were
excluded if they were left-handed, had used drugs, or
psychoactive medi cati on wi t hin the past six m ont hs. Clinical Population
Forty right-handed native French-speakers (male n =
15 and female n = 25) aged between 21 to 55 years (M =
37.84 years, SD = 8.38 years) with clinically relaps-
ing-remitting multiple sclerosis less than 5 years dura-
tion (M = 3 years, SD = 1.54) were selected. They parti-
cipated after providing their informed consent approved
by the ethical committee. Multiple Sclerosis was diag-
nosed by a physician, applying the New McDonald Cri-
teria. New diagnostic criteria from the International Pan-
el of McDonald and colleagues incorporate MRI evi-
dence of dissemination in time and space to allow a di-
agnosis of MS in patients with clinically definite and
remitting syndromes with or without inflammatory dys-
function in the central nervous system (CNS). For five
patients the functional scores on the Kurtzke expanded
disability status scale ([80]; EDSS) were between 4.5-
6.0, without any aggravation (mean follow-up 3 months).
Patients with moderate and severe cognitive impairment
were excluded after assessment with the BNI [81]. The
selected MS participants were then compared with 40
participants (male n = 14 and female n = 26) selected
among our non-clinical sample based on their autobio-
graphical profile (gender, age, education, and so-
cio-economical background).
2.1.2. Stimuli
The stimuli were triads (see Annex) of concepts com-
posed of a target and two comparison concepts. In each
triad, one of the two comparison concepts was related to
the target concept through an emotional (positive or
negative) association, whereas the other one was related
to the target concept through a non-emotional, taxono m-
ic association. Three categories of triads (neg ative, posi-
tive, and neutral), with nine triads per category were
used. Some triads were extracted from material used by
Niedenthal, Halberstadt, and Innes-Ker [30]. Other triads
were created for this study following the procedure de-
scribed by Niedenthal and her colleagues [30].
2.1.3. Material Check
An initial pilot test (n = 30 participants who did not
participate in the main study) on a large set of potential
triads (88 concepts) was conducted to ensure that partic-
ipants chose a variety of responses for each triad (at least
20% and no more than 80% of pilot participants select-
ing each possible response).
2.1.4. Measure of Individual Characteristics:
Questionnaires and Scales
In the present study, we used a battery of self-report
questionnaires that measure emotion-related personality
characteristics. As moderator variables, anxiety, depres-
sion, and Alexithymia have been known to be emotion-
related personality traits relevant to cognitive perfor-
mance, but also as characteristics of individuals with
multiple sclerosis. Therefore, all participan ts were admi-
nistered the Trait-Anxiety Inventory [82], Beck Depres-
sion Inventory [83], and Toronto Alexithymia Scale [84].
All three are self-report instruments intended to assess
the existence, intensity or severity of the felt anxiety,
symptoms of depression, and difficulties in identifying,
describing, and communicating emotional feelings in clin-
ical and non-clinical populations. High scores on theses
scales are indicatives of anxietous, depressive and Alex-
ithymic tendencies.
The standardized version of the Trait-Anxiety Scale
contains 15 items. For each item, the respondent was
asked to indicate on a 4-point scale from “never” to “al-
ways” how frequently s/he would feel in that way. The
standardized version of the Beck Depression Inventory
is a 21-item self-report instrument intended to assess the
existence and severity of symptoms of depression. Each
of the 21 items corresponding to a symptom of depres-
sion is summed to give a single score. There is a four-
point scale for each item ranging from 0 to 3. On two
items (16 and 18) there are seven options to indicate
either an increase or decrease of appetite and sleep. The
revised-version of the Toronto Alexithymia Scale con-
sists of 20 items, and a high score on this scale corres-
ponds to difficulty to distinguish between (identification),
to describe (description), and to express (ex teriorization)
F. Pahlavan et al. / Health 2 (2010) 1349-1365
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one’s emotions. It was constructed after a literature re-
view revealing 5 main content areas thought to reflect
the construct. However, factorial analysis of the finalized
20-item version of the TAS suggested a three- factor
solution. First factor consisted of items that refer to the
ability to identify and describe feelings and to distin-
guish between bodily sensations, secondary factor re-
flected the ability to communicate feelings to others, and
third factor represented the tend ency to focus on extern al
events over inner experiences. For each item, the res-
pondent was asked to indicate on a 5-point scale ranging
from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree” the extent
to which s/he was agreed with statement. The TAS has
shown adequate internal consistency, good test- retest
reliability, and good convergent and discriminant validi-
ty [85]. The TAS and TAS-20 are now the most widely
used measures of alexithymia [86].
2.1.5. Apparatus and Response Measurement
for the Experimental Task
The instructions, presentation of the triads, collection
of subject's responses and response times were con-
trolled by a Pentium IBM compatible computer with an
IIyama 15 inch vision master 404, 50/60 hz monitor. The
time between presentation of each triad and the lexical
decision by subjects was recorded as decision time.
2.1.6. Experiment al Task
Each trial consisted of simultaneous presentation of
three concepts in an equilateral triangular shape. The
centered target word was presented 8 cm from the top of
the screen, with two alternative response words dis-
played 8 cm below the target. Two comparison concepts
were presented 14.5 cm apart from each other. The con-
cepts were presented in 24 p ixel MS serif small letter. A
fixed, random order of triads (positiv e, negative, n eutral)
was used. The left or right sided presentation of emo-
tional terms was counterbalanced across trials for each
category of triad s.
After three practice trials, all the participants received
27 test trials. Each triad was displayed by the computer
until the subj ect made a d ecision. The particip an ts used a
9 cm × 20 cm × 4.20 cm response box with two keys
placed 5.5 cm apart on the board corresponding respec-
tively to the position of the index of right an d left hands
on an outstretched bras. They were seated 70 cm away
from the screen, and 30 cm away from the response box.
They were encouraged to keep the palm of the hand on
the table, making discrete index finger movements only.
The participants were asked to fixate on a central point
presented at the center of the screen when each triad was
removed. For each trial, the computer began to display a
fixation point at the center of the screen, and after 500
ms a triad was displayed. The participants were in-
structed to press with their left index finger on the left
key if they thought the target concept was most similar
to the concept displayed on the left and with their right
index finger on the right key in the other case. The next
trial was initiated only after the subject responded. Res-
ponses and response times were record ed an d encod ed in
terms of the valence (positive, negative, neutral) and
presentation-side (left/right) of the emotional informa-
tion. Then, mean frequencies (number of valenced emo-
tional decisions for each presentation-side divided by
total number of negative or positive triads per presenta-
tion-side) and mean time of decisions (sum of valenced
emotional decision times for each presentation-side di-
vided by number of valenced emotional decisions for
each presentation-side) were computed and analyzed.
2.1.7. Procedure
Participants were told that the purpose of the experi-
ment was to assess their decisions about different con-
cepts. After entering a sound-attenuated room, the par-
ticipants were invited, by experimenters, to sit on a chair
facing a computer monitor on which a uniformly gray
image was presented and to complete a questionnaire. If
the subjects indicated no recent psychoactive medica-
tions they would complete a consent form and read the
instructions displayed on the computer. The instructions
indicated that the experiment concerned participant's
perception of lexical similarity. Participants were in-
structed to view each triad on the screen and to use the
response box by pressing the appropriate key to transmit
their choice. Participants were also instructed that an
initial block of three trials was designed to aid habitua-
tion to the experimental task and experimental process.
After presentation of all the triads, participants com-
pleted a number of self-report scales intended to measure
emotion-related individual differences (Trait-Anxiety
Scale, Beck Depression Inventory, Toronto Alexithymia
Scale, and autobiographic questionnaire). Finally, par-
ticipants were debriefed, thanked, and paid.
For both samples, descriptive statistics were calculated
for each of the variables and Pearson’s correlation coeffi-
cients were used to investigate the relationship between
the individuals’ differences and cognitive performances.
To test the hypothesis that processing affective informa-
tion could be related to hemispheric asymmetries, we
conducted analyses of variance in which we examined
the relationships between valence and presentation-side
of the emotional information with frequency and time of
categorical decisions for both non-clinical and clinical
F. Pahlavan et al. / Health 2 (2010) 1349-1365
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. Openly accessible at http://www.scirp.org/journal/HEALTH/
populations. Regression and variance analyses were used
in order to examine the effects of age and gender on the
emotional scores and cognitive performances. All data
were analyzed with Statistica and SPSS for Windows.
4.1. Individual Emotional Differences
Correlations computed between different measures of
individuals’ emotional characteristics showed that each
characteristic preserved it’s specificity, at least partly,
reflecting the interest of taking into account these meas-
ures for evaluation of their impact and/or relationships
with cognitive performances. The results showed that the
level of alexithymia was significantly and positively
correlated with the level of anxiety and depression (r
anxiety = 0.34; r BDI = 0.28, p < 0.05). These two last
emotional characteristics were also significantly and
positively correlated (r = 0.71, p < 0.05). Although, in-
tercorrelations between global level of alexithymia and
its components were strong (r identification = 0.77; r
description = 0.78; r externalization = 0.58, p < 0.05),
only its identification component was correlated signifi-
cantly with the scores on anxiety and depression (r an-
xiety = 0.48; r BDI = 0.40, p < 0.05).
4.1.1. Emotional Characteristics and Cognitiv e
Correlations were computed between individuals’
emotional characteristics and categorization decision
scores (frequency and reaction times). The correlations
suggest relations between emotional individual differ-
ences and triad task performance. These relations vary,
however, depending on the side of presentation of emo-
tional terms of each triad suggesting a role of hemis-
pheric organization of processing of emotional-relevant
information. In our sample, the more anxious and de-
pressive participants chose preferentially negative emo-
tional information presented in their left visual space (r
anxiety = 0.29, p < 0.05; r BDI = 0.24, p < 0.05) indi-
cating the right hemisphere implication.
For the neutral triads, participants with the higher
scores of alexithymia chose more frequently the left side
concept. Correlations between measures of alexithymia
and frequency of the left-sided (r TAS20 = 0.26, p <
0.05), and right-sided choices (r TAS20 = 0.26, p < 0.05)
for neutral triads could be accounted for a more left-sided
search than right-sided when individuals with difficulties
to identify and name emotional information try to make
an emotional categorical decision, corresponding to so
called leftward bias in literature [87]. There were no sig-
nificant correlation between individuals’ emotional cha-
racteristics and categorization decision t imes.
Simultaneous multiple regression (see [88], for details
about the regression procedure) of the emotional catego-
rization (frequencies and decision times) on the predic-
tors (age, gender: male = 0, female = 1, anxiety, depres-
sion, and components of alexithymia) revealed only sig-
nificant contributions of the global alexithymia scores
and its identification component for frequencies related
to neutral triads ( = 0.12, F(5,74) = 1.92, p < 0.10;
0.30, t = 2.51, p < 0.02) and for decision times rela-
tive to left-sided neutral triads ( = 0.15, F(7,72) = 1.79,
p < 0.10;
= 0.42, t = 3.18, p < 0.003).
In sum, frequencies of the categorical decisions for
neutral triads were lesser and also decision times for
left-sided neutral triads were longer when participants
with difficulties to processing emotional information,
specifically identifying them, tried to make a categorical
decision. The lengthened decision times for left-sided
neutral triads corresponds to the right hemisphere hy-
pothesized-error detection function predicted by Smith
and colleagues [89].
Although non-significant, the contribution of the age
and gender variables on variance of the categorical deci-
sions found to be dependent on the valence of the triads.
In general, men’s decision times for emotional triads
were longer whatever their hand-side, but they were cho-
sen more frequently by women when they were presented
on the right side. However, negative left-sided triads were
chosen by younger men, and positive ones by younger
women. Regarding neutral triads, the decision times for
left-sided triads were longest for older women, and
shortest for men’s right-sided decision. Frequencies of
left-sided neutral triads cho sen as emotional were h ighest
in younger women, but frequencies of right-sided choic es
were highest in older men.
4.2. Non-Clinical Population
4.2.1. Emotional Characteristics
Separate analyses of individual differences for anxiety,
depression, and alexithymic scores for the non-clinical
sample were computed. The results showed no significant
effects except for externalization involving sex of the
subjects, F(1,78) = 4.42, p < 0.04; f = 0.48. Consistent
with other published data (e.g. [90]), compared with
women, men demonstrated more difficulties for express-
ing their emotions (M = 2.12, SD = 0.52 VS M = 1.89, SD
= 0.44).
4.2.2. Emotional Categorization Frequency of Emotional Choice1
A 2 × 3 × 2 (Sex of the subjects × Valence of the tri-
1Note: A separate analysis of variance of categorization decision and
decision times was conducted for neutra l t riads (Table 1). The results
showed no si
nificant effect due to
ant’s sex.
F. Pahlavan et al. / Health 2 (2010) 1349-1365
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. Openly accessible at http://www.scirp.org/journal/HEALTH/
ads × Hand-side) ANOVA was used in which two latter
factors were treated as repeated measures.
Analysis of variance for frequency of emotional
choices revealed significant main effects of sex of the
subjects, F(1,78) = 4.64, p < 0.04; f = 0.48, valence of
the triads, F(2,156) = 17.11, p < 0.001; f = 0.66, and
hand-side, F (1,78) = 9.44, p < 0.003; f = 0.70. The sig-
nificant main effect of valence was due to the more fre-
quent choice of the su bjects for positive rather than neg-
ative emotional responses (M positive = 0.598 VS M
negative = 0.495 VS M neutral = 0.500). The main effect
of the sex of the subjects corresponds to a more frequent
emotional choice for wo men compared to men (M w om en
= 0.550 VS M men = 0.510). Effect of the hand-side
showed more left categorical choice than right (M left =
0. 56 1 VS M right = 0.500).
A two-way in teraction associating v alence of the triads
with hand-side, F(2,156) = 3.13, p < 0.05; f = 0.28, was
found, too. Inspection of the data showed most frequent
left-side emotional choice for positive triads and less for
negative ones (M positive = 0.657 VS M negative = 0 .505
VS M neutral = 0.522). For right-side emotional choice,
most frequent choice was also found for positive triads,
but less for neutral ones (M positive = 0.538 VS M nega-
tive = 0.484 VS M neutral = 0.478). Thus, emotional
choices were more frequent for positive triads, particu-
larly in the case of the left-sided presentations.
Separate analyses of the data for emotional triads
showed same significant effects and revealed modulation
of categorization of emotional information by valence
and side of presentation of the stimuli, particularly for
positive triads, F(1,78) = 5,56, p < 0.02; f = 0.53. The
most frequent choice wa s observed for positive triad wh en
emotional concept was presented at the left side, and the
least for negative triad with emotional co ncept presented
on the right side (see Table 1).
Analyses of the data taking into account subjects’ dif-
ferences for anxiety, depression, and alexithymic (identi-
fication and description) scores as covariable revealed
the same significant effects, except for externalization.
Indeed, after integration of externalization score as co-
variable the main significant effect of gender disap-
peared, without an y consequence for the o ther effects. Categorization D ecision Time
Analyses of variance with a 2 × 3 × 2 (Sex of the
subjects x Valence of the triads x Hand-side) factorial
design were performed for categorization decision times
in which two latter factors were treated as repeated
measures. Except for main effect of sex of the subjects,
analyses after logarithmic transformation of categoriza-
tion decision times showed similar main effects and in-
teractions to those fo und for frequency of the catego riza-
tion decisio ns.
Tab le 1. Categorization Decision Frequency and Categoriza-
tion Decision Times as a function of Sex of the subjects,
Triad valence, and Hand-side.
Left Right
Male(n = 34)
M 0.546 0.454
SD 0.156 0.156
M 2604a 2254
SD 0.205 0.588
M 0.603a 0.500
SD 0.223 0.192
M 5835 6549
SD 0.151 0.211
M 0.500 0.459
SD 0.222 0.194
M 4700 5333
SD 0.141 0.199
M 0.498 0.502
SD 0.123 0.123
M 2221a 2327
SD 0.834 0.509
M 0.712a 0.574
SD 0.241 0.222
M 5988 7267
SD 0.173 0.178
M 0.511 0.509
SD 0.217 0.172
M 4619 6080
SD 0.177 0.151
Note: Categorization decision times are displayed in milliseconds.
Significant main effects of valence of the triads, F(2,
156) = 13.34, p < 0.001; f = 0.59, and hand-side, F(1,78)
= 5.85, p < 0.02; f = 0.55, were found. Careful in spection
of the data for these main effects showed faster decision
times for negative compared with positive triads (M Pos-
itive = 6440 ms VS M Negative = 5196 ms VS M Neu-
tral = 2366 ms), and for left hand categorization deci-
sions (M left = 4339 ms VS M right = 4996 ms).
A two way significant interaction effect was found
involving valen ce of the tr iads and ha nd-side; F(2,156) =
3.58, p < 0.03; f = 0.30. The data are relevant to the hy-
pothesis of differential processing of left- and right
presentations of the emotional information. Asymme-
trical processing of information seems to be related to
F. Pahlavan et al. / Health 2 (2010) 1349-1365
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Table 2. Categorization Decision Frequency and Categoriza-
tion Decision Times as a function of Hand-side and Triad va-
Triad valence Hand side
Left Right
Neutral 0.522a 0.478c
2413a 2291a
Positive 0.657ab 0.538cb
5912ab 6909abc
Negative 0.505b 0.484b
4660ac 5707ac
Note: categorization decision tim es are displayed in milliseconds.
Means that share superscripts differ at p < 0.05 in post-hoc LSD tests.
valence of emotional information. In general, as we ex-
pected, for right-handed individuals the data (see Table
2) showed fastest decision times in the case of neutral
triads (M left-neutral = 2413 ms, M right-neutral = 2291
ms). In contrast, emotional decision times were slower
for positive triads; the fastest emotional choices occu rred
for left-side decisions based on negative valenced in-
formation (M left-positive = 5912 ms VS M
right-positive = 6909 ms; M left-negative = 4660 ms VS
M right- negative = 5707 ms). The configuration of re-
sults for emotional decisions supports our hypothesis. In
spite of a general deceleration of the decision times for
positive triads and acceleration for negative triads which
are relevant to a motivational hypothesis [32], these ten-
dencies were more noticeable whenever positive infor-
mation was more accessible to the right hemisphere and
negative information to the left hemisphere.
Analyses of the data in function of subjects’ differ-
ences for anxiety, depression, and alexithymic (identi-
fication, description, and externalization) scores as
covariable revealed the same significant effects.
4.3. Clinical Population
4.3.1. Emotional Characteristics
Analyses of individual d ifferences for anxiety, depres-
sion, and alexithymic scores for clinical sample showed
the same significant gender effect for emotion externali-
zation, F(1,38) = 8.86, p < 0.005; f = 0.97, with more
difficulties of externalization for men (M = 49.33, SD =
10. 7 2 VS M = 66.24, SD = 20.29).
4.3.2. Emotional Categorization Frequency of Emotional Choice
Separate analysis of variance for neutral triads (Table
3) for participants with multiple sclerosis showed a sig-
nificant interaction for categorization decision involving
sex of the subjects and hand-side, F(1,38) = 4.91, p <
0.04; f = 0.72. Inspection of the data showed most fre
Table 3. Categorization Decision Frequency and Categoriza-
tion Decision Times as a function of Group and Sex of the
subjects, Triad val ence, a n d Hand-side.
Group/Triad va-
lence Hand-side
Left Right
Healthy Participants (40)
Male (n=14)
M 0.508 0.492
SD 0.188 0.188
M 2178 2219a
SD 0.232 0.184
M 0.571 0.571
SD 0.206 0.205
M 4890 8084
SD 0.186 0.288
M 0.446 0.557ab
SD 0.223 0.160
M 3926 6340
SD 0.144 0.261
Female (n=26)
M 0.496 0.504
SD 0.114 0.114
M 347 2319a
SD 0.164 0.154
M 0.673 0.577
SD 0.262 0.206
M 5915ab 7613
SD 0.202 0.194
M 0.481a 0.538
SD 0.199 0.176
M 4330 6715a
SD 0.195 0.173
Participants with Multiple Sclerosis (n=40)
Male (n=15)
M 0.422 0.578
SD 0.086 0.086
M 3034 2188a
SD 0.162 0.169
M 0.667 0.537
SD 0.204 0.242
M 7440a 9439
SD 0.476 0.923
M 0.317a 0.373a
F. Pahlavan et al. / Health 2 (2010) 1349-1365
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. Openly accessible at http://www.scirp.org/journal/HEALTH/
SD 0.291 0.237
M 4201 6280
SD 1.701 1.233
Female (n=25)
M 0.511 0.489
SD 0.140 0.140
M 2265 2460a
SD 0.175 0.199
M 0.640 0.640
SD 0.315 0.252
M 5635ab 9268
SD 0.931 0.191
M 0.410 0.344ab
SD 0.269 0.147
M 4192 4820a
SD 1.376 0.720
Note: categorization decision times are displayed in millseconds.
Means in the same row that do not share superscripts differ at p<.05
in post-hoc LSD tests.
quent right-side and less left-side choices for men (M
left-side = 0.422 VS M right-side = 0.578; p < 0.02).
Reverse tendencies were found for women (M left-side =
0.511 VS M right-side = 0.489). It seemed false alarm
were significantly more frequent for men in the case of
the right-sided information, whereas women did the same
for left-sided ones.
Analysis of variance (Sex of the subjects 2 × Valence
of the triads 3 × Hand-side 2) for frequency of emotional
choices revealed significant main effects of valence of
the triads, F(2,76) = 22.72, p < 0.0001; f = 1.10, which
was due to the more frequent choices for positive or
neutral rather than negative emotional responses (M pos-
itive = 0.621 VS M negative = 0.361 VS M neutral =
A three-way interactio n associating sex of the subjects
with valence of the triads and hand-side, F(2,76) = 3.18,
p < 0.05; f = 0.41, was found, too. Inspection of the data
revealed for men most frequent left-side emotional
choices for positive triads and less frequent emotional
choices for negative ones (Positive: M left-side = 0.667
VS M right-side = 0.537; Negative: M left-side = 0.317
VS M right-side = 0.373. Neutral: M left-side = 0.422.
VS M right-side = 0.578). For women, we did not find
any differences related to hand-side for positive triads.
However, women made relatively more categorical deci-
sions for left-sided negative and neutral information
(Positive: M left-side = 0.640 VS M right-side = 0.640;
Negative: M left-side = 0.410 VS M right-side = 0.344.
Neutral: M left-side = 0.511 VS M right-side = 0.489).
Thus, emotional choices were more frequent for positive
triads, particularly for men in the case of the left-sided
presentations, in volving right hemisphere activation. For
negative triads, men’s left-sided and women’s right-
sided were least choices.
Analyses of the data in function of subjects’ differ-
ences for anxiety, depression, and alexithymic (identifi-
cation, description, and externalization) scores as cova-
riable revealed the same significant effects. Categorization D ecision Time
Analyses of variance performed for categorization de-
cision times after logarithmic transformation of the data
showed significant main effects of valence of the triads,
F(2,76) = 9.37, p < 0.001; f = 0.70, and hand-side,
F(1,38) = 6.45, p < 0.02; f = 0.82, and also a significant
interaction effect involving same variables, F(2,76) =
5.17, p < 0.01; f = 0.52. Inspection of the data for these
main effects showed faster decision times for negative
compared with positive triads (M Negative = 4874 ms
VS M Positive = 7946 ms VS M Neutral = 2487 ms),
and for left hand compared with right hand categoriza-
tion decisions (M left = 4461 ms VS M right = 5743
A significant interaction effect involving valence of
the triads and hand-side was observed concerning the
hypothesis of asymmetrical processing of information
dependent on the valence of emotional information. In
general, as we expected, for right-handed individuals the
data (see Ta bl e 4) showed fastest decision times in the
case of neutral triads (M left-sided = 2649 ms, M right-
sided = 2323 ms). For emotional decision times, right-
sided decision were the slowest, specifically in the case
of positive triads (M left-positive = 6538 ms VS M
right-positive = 9353 ms; M left-negative = 4197 ms VS
M right-negative = 5550 ms). The data’s directions for
emotional decisions was similar to that of the general
population in the present study, specifically when posi-
tive information was more accessible to the right he-
misphere and negative information to the left hemis-
Analyses of the data in function of subjects’ differ-
ences for anxiety, depression, and alexithymic (identifi-
cation, description, and externalization) scores as cova-
riable revealed the same significant effects.
4.4. Comparative Analyses
In order to compare performance of participants
with multiple sclerosis with the general population,
we conducted a separate analysis comparing 40 con-
trol participants matched on sex, age, and so-
cio-economical profile with those participants with
multiple sclerosis.
F. Pahlavan et al. / Health 2 (2010) 1349-1365
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4.4.1. Emotional Characteristics
Analyses of individual d ifferences for anxiety, depres-
sion, and alexithymic scores comparing healthy partici-
Table 4. Categorization Decision Frequency and Categoriza-
tion Decision Times as a function of Group of the subjects,
Hand-side, and Triad valence.
Group/Triad va-
lence Hand-side
Left Right
Healthy subjects
Neutral 0.502 0.498
2262 2269
Positive 0.622 0.574
5402bc 7848abc
Negative 0.464ab 0.548ab
4128bc 6528ac
Participants with Sclerosis
Neutral 0.467 0.533
2649 2324
Positive 0.653 0.588
6538a 9354ab
Negative 0.363a 0.359b
4197a 5550ab
Note: Categorization decision times are displayed in milliseconds.
Means that share superscripts differ at p < 0.05 in post-hoc LSD tests.
pants with those with multiple sclerosis showed signifi-
cantly higher levels of anxiety, F(1,76) = 8.43, p < 0.005;
f = 0.67; M control = 37.51 VS M sclerosis = 44.35, and
alexithymic scores, F(1,76) = 16.09, p < .0001; f = 0.56;
M control = 43.38 VS M sclerosis = 52.31, for the clini-
cal group. Concerning alexithymic values, although in
both groups there were no differences between men and
women in terms of difficulties to identify emotions, F(1,
76) = 20.31, p < 0.0001; f = 1.04; M control = 14.01 VS
M sclerosis = 19.25, for externalization of emotions in
addition to main effects related to participants’ sex and
health, a significant two-way interaction involving both
variables is found, F(1,76) = 10.69, p < 0.002; f = 0.75.
Compared to women, men of the non-clinical
sub-sample experience more difficulties to express their
emotion (M men = 17.14, SD = 3.40 VS M women =
14.92, SD = 3.53). A reversed trend is observed for the
clinical group: Women more than men find difficult to
express their emotions (M men = 49.33, SD = 10.71 VS
M women = 66.24, SD = 20.29). No significant main
effects or interaction were found for the scores on de-
4.4.2. Emotional Categorization Frequency of Emotional Choice 1
For emotional triads, a 2 × 2 × 3 × 2 (Sex of the sub-
jects × Group of the subjects × Valence of the triads ×
Hand-side) ANOVA was used in which two latter factors
were treated as repeated measures.
Analysis of variance for frequency of emotional
choices revealed significant main effects of valence of
the triads, F(2,152) = 27.41, p < 0.001; f = 0.85, and its
interaction with group of the subj ects, F(2,15 2) = 7.14, p
< 0.002; f = 0.43. The significant main effect of valence
was due to the most frequent choices of the subjects for
positive rather than negative emotional responses (M
positive = 0.610 VS M negative = 0.433 VS M neutral =
A two-way interaction associating valence of the tri-
ads with group of the subjects, corresponding to the most
frequent emotional choices for positive triads and least
for negative ones was observed in the case of the pa rtic-
ipants with multiple sclerosis (M positive = 0.621 VS M
negative = 0.361 VS M neutral = 0.500) compared to
healthy ones (M p ositive = 0.598 VS M negative = 0.506
VS M neutral = 0.500). In fact, differences between
non-clinical and clinical participants were significant
only for negative choices, F(1,76) = 13.27, p < 0.0005; f
= 0.82, M control = 0.506 VS M sclerosis = 0.361. Categorization D ecision Time
A 2 × 2 × 3 × 2 (Sex of the subjects x Group of the
subjects x Valence of the triads x Hand-side) factorial
analysis was performed for categorization decision times
in which the two latter factors were treated as repeated
measures. Analyses after logarithmic transformation of
categorization decision times showed in addition to the
main effects of valence of the triads, F(2,152) = 8.83, p
< 0.0002; f = 0.48, and hand-side, F(1,76) = 7.59, p <
0.008; f = 0.63, two two-way interactions, F(2,152) =
9.47, p < 0.0001; f = 0.50; F(1,76) = 5.06, p < 0.03; f =
0.52, and a three-way, F(2,152) = 5.23, p < 0.007; f =
0.35, involving gr oup of the subjects and the two former
variables. Inspection of the data showed longest time
decisions for positive information (M positive = 7286 ms
VS M negative = 5101 ms VS M neutral = 2376 ms),
right-sided information (M right-side = 5645 ms VS M
left-side = 4196 ms), specifically for participants with
multiple sclerosis in terms of valenced information (Mul-
tiple sclerosis: M positive = 7946 ms VS M negative =
4874 ms VS M neutral = 2187 ms; Control: M positive =
6625 ms VS M negative = 5325 ms VS M neutral =
2265 ms), or its presentation side (Multiple sclerosis: M
right-side = 5743 ms VS M left-side = 4461 ms; Control:
M right-side = 5548 ms VS M left-side = 3931 ms).
A three-way interaction showed that compared with
non-clinical population those from clinical sample took
more time to make their decisions in th e case of the pos-
itive and neutral triads, with the longest decision times
for right-sided positive information (Right-side: M con-
F. Pahlavan et al. / Health 2 (2010) 1349-1365
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. Openly accessible at http://www.scirp.org/journal/HEALTH/
trol = 7848 ms VS M sclerosis = 9353 ms; Left-side: M
control = 5402 ms VS M sclerosis = 6537 ms), and the
fastest time decisions for right-sided neutral ones
(Right-side: M control = 2268 ms VS M sclerosis =
2323 ms; Left-side: M control = 2262 ms VS M sclerosis
= 2649 ms). The most interesting effect was observed in
the case of negative triads. Indeed, although there were
no differences between healthy participants and multiple
sclerosis patients when processing left-sided negative
information (M control = 4127 ms VS M sclerosis =
4197 ms), in the case of the right-sided negative infor-
mation participants with multiple sclero sis took less time
to make their emotional decision (M control = 6527 ms
VS M sclerosis = 5550 ms, see Table 4).
Thus, although participants with multiple sclerosis
needed much more time to make their decision about
categorization of emotional information, when facing
negative information they were relatively rapid. This
effect could be interpreted as a consequence of their
disease and the worries it generates, in which case a
negative correlation between anxiety or depression
scores and frequencies and time decisions for negative
information would be expected. Nevertheless, the
results of our study reveal rather positive and non sig-
nificant correlations between these variables.
Our data are consistent with previous studies, showing
a) right hemisphere specialization for the categorization of
emotional concepts (e.g. [44]), especially negative ones
(e.g. [45]) in general population and in a sample of pa-
tients suffering from multiple sclerosis. In addition, our
data provide b) evidence for asymmetrical processing of
emotional information and bring some methodological
insights related to measurement of negative-valenced
information processing, suggestion correspondence be-
tween valenced information (positive/negative) and their
presentation-side (left/right). As a matter of fact, the lack
of differential processing of negative information in the
absence of positive ones in some studies could be ex-
plained in terms of the lack of those types of correspon-
dence (e.g. [30,35,36]). Nevertheless, they show, for
both populations, c) no gender-related differences re-
garding individuals’ emotional characteristics, specifi-
cally in terms of alexithymia features (e.g. [56]).
On the basis of these findings our hypothesis that
emotion-related individual differences could modulate
processing of affective information is partially supported.
In accordance with previous studies, analyses show that
dimensions relevant to emotional disorders are generally
associated with asymmetrical categorization, with slow
left-sided decisions, particularly in the case of negative
information. Anxious or/and alexithymic people seemed
to solicit preferentially right hemisphere resources, c au s in g
slower treatment of right-sided negative stimuli, except
in the clinical sample. Indeed, participants with multiple
sclerosis treated right-sided negative information faster
than non-clinical participants. Two different but related
explanations could be proposed to explain this effect.
First, people with multiple sclerosis may rely first on left
hemisphere activation for processing emotional informa-
tion regardless of the valence of the information. Second,
we could imagine that this preferentially activation is
due to their general negative emot i onal stat e.
Our analyses of variance showed that people develop
some preferential processes for categorization decisions,
which result in longer decision times for preferred infor-
mation (positive information, [32]). However, even tho ugh
participants preferred , in general, to us e positive info rma-
tion as the basis of their categorization, they chose more
left-sided than right-sided po sitive emotional alternatives.
At the same time, these left preferential decisions were
faster than right-sided decisions. When participants had
to choose between emotional or non-emotional alterna-
tives they showed the same tendencies, more frequent
and faster left-sided emotional decisions. The processing
of emotional information, specifically positive informa-
tion seemed to be more efficient whenever it was access-
ible to the right hemisphere.
This preferential processing seems to vary depending
on gender of the individuals. Women compared to men
chose more frequently emotional information for making
categorical decisions, but they took more time to make
these decisions. Regarding gender, we noticed exactly
the same tendencies in clinical populatio n inv estigated in
present study.
The main finding of the present study was that there
exists patterns of hemispheric asymmetry that vary sys-
tematically as an interactive function of the valence of
emotional information involved in categorical decisions,
and the spatial presentation of this information (left- or
right side), resulting in more or less accessibility of in-
formation to the left or right hemisphere. Additionally,
the results showed a contribution of certain individual
emotional characteristics to the organization of these
patterns. The cen tral finding regarding hemispheric late-
rality was that the asymmetry emerged from longer
processing for the right side decisions (stimuli/response)
and shorter processing for left side, thus from more ac-
cessibility of the information for the right hemisphere
than the left, except in the case of neutral triads. The
slowest and the fastest decision s were respectively f ound
for positive and neutral right-sided triads, supporting a
motivational hypothesis, according to which people are
motivated to search and preserve their positive feeling s .
Taken together, the results concerning individuals’
F. Pahlavan et al. / Health 2 (2010) 1349-1365
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. Openly accessible at http://www.scirp.org/journal/HEALTH/
emotional differences and cognitive tasks revealed a
greater implication of the right hemisphere in processing
affectivo-verbal information. This observation favors a
functional conception of hemispheric asymmetry [13],
and provides evidence concerning the dynamic relation-
ship between individuals’ emotional differences (alexi-
thymic features), the nature of information and the spa-
tial context of their presentation. The participants high in
emotion identification and externalization needed more
time to process emotional information presented to the
right visual field (left hemisphere activation).
In the present study, the emotional stimuli were pre-
sented in the both hemi-spaces, and the right hemisphere
dominance was present across both positiv e and neg ativ e
stimuli. All participants with a higher emotional sensi-
tivity (anxiety, emotion id entificatio n and externalization)
seemed to search emotional information in their left vis-
ual space (right hemisphere involvement), and process it
more efficiently. However, those with multiple sclerosis
processed faster but less efficiently (less than 40% of
emotional categorization decisions) right-sided informa-
tion (involving the left hemisphere). These findings
support those of previous studies an d suggest the impor-
tance of integration of individual differences in the
analysis of hemispheric asymmetrical processing of
emotional information. In fact, although the patterns of
asymmetries favor right hemisphere processing of nega-
tive stimuli compared to left hemisphere treatment of
positive stimuli (faster negative left-side decisio n), in the
case of non-clinical participants when comparing deci-
sion times only for emotional triads, the interactive ef-
fect associating valence of triads with their side presen-
tation disappeared. These complex dynamic relation-
ships between dispositional and situational features in
cognitive tasks require more investigation. It may be
valuable for future studies on hemispheric laterality of
emotional information to consider the functions of each
hemisphere depending on emotional states. The present
research suggests the importance of right-hemispheric
activity in processing emotional information as a func-
tion of dispositional characteristics. By understanding
basic processes involved in treating emotional informa-
tion we should be in a better pos ition to predict relation-
ships between emotion and cogn ition.
For example, working memory involved in categoriza-
tion processes seems to have two major levels of
processing in terms of access to encoded information:
maintenance, and manipulation. Irrespective of which of
these two systems are responsible for impaired perfor-
mance in working memory, another mediating variable
influencing working memory performance accuracy is
information processing speed [91]. Several studies have
revealed significant difficulties in information
processing in individuals with multiple sclerosis [92]. In
fact, decreased efficiency in processing speed is a pri-
mary determinant of impaired working memory perfor-
mance. However, a recent research using MRI suggested
that patients, with working memory impairment, at the
early stage of MS may partially compensate by a greater
cognitive control [93]. Also, our results suggest that in-
vestigation of processes which underlay hemispheric
specialization and interaction between emotion and cog-
nition is warranted among subjects with multiple sclero-
sis and may ultimately help us to better understand and
generate novel techniques to provid e a better life-quality
for them.
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Order of presentation and valence of the Triads:
French version
Target Concept Alternative Concepts
Neutral Triads
1)cuisinier serveur artiste
3)peau écorce cheveux
5)muscle os moteur
6)patinoire stade miroir
12)dents perles gorge
13)fourchette dard louche
17)football ping-pong œuf
18)chaussure pneu chemise
21)moquette parquet fourrure
27)chapeau chaussettes toit (roof)
30)serpent spaghettis tortue
Positive triads
2)soleil rire allumette
7)succès incertitude vacances
10)chanson cris barbe à papa
14)mer liberté plaine
15)plage falaise tendresse
20)repos fleur extinction
23)escalade monte-charge pique-nique
26)biberon câlin assiette
29)diamant fer étoile
31)promenade beauté course
Negative Triads
4)béquilles fauteuil roulant jambe
8)avalanche neige accident
9)ruine achats ouleur
11)avocat contrat divorce
16)hôpital hôtel ennui
19)poubelle odeur sac
22)doberman requin caniche
24)incendie enterrement grille-pain
25)dentiste souffrance brosse
28)ambulance fourgonnette guerre
English version
Target Concept Alternative Concepts
Neutral Triads
1)chief waiter artist
3)skin bark hair
5)muscle bone motor
6)skating rink stadium mirror
12)teeth pearls throat
13)fork stinger ladle
17)football ping-pong egg
18)shoe tire shirt
21)carpet floor fur
27)hat shoes roof
30)snake spaghetti turtle
Positive triads
2)sun laugh matches
7)success uncertainty vacation
10)song screams cotton-candy
14)sea freedom plain
15)beach cliff tenderness
20)rest flower extinguish
23)climbing hoist picnic
26)bottle cuddle plate
29)diamond iron star
31)walk beauty race
Negative Triads
4)crutch wheelchair leg
8)avalanche snow accident
9)ruin purchases pain
11)lawyer contract divorce
16)hospital hotel boredom
19)trash smell bag
22)doberman shark poodle
24)fire burial toaster
25)dentist suffering brush
28)ambulance truck war
Note: Trial 1 Neutral was used as an example triad