Graduation Year

Spring 2012

Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

Alan Hartley

Reader 2

Stacey Wood

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2011 Zoe Ravich


Early-latency theories of emotional processing state that at least coarse monitoring of the emotional valence (a pleasure-displeasure continuum) of facial expressions should be both rapid and highly automated (LeDoux, 1995; Russell, 1980). Research has largely substantiated early-latency differential processing of emotional versus non-emotional facial expressions; however, the effect of valence on early-latency processing of emotional facial expression remains unclear. In an effort to delineate the effects of valence on early-latency emotional facial expression processing, the current investigation compared ERP responses to positive (happy and surprise), neutral, and negative (afraid and sad) basic facial expression photographs as well as to positive (happy-surprise), neutral (afraid-surprise, happy-afraid, happy-sad, sad-surprise), and negative (sad-afraid) morph facial expression photographs during a valence-rating task. Morphing manipulations have been shown to decrease the familiarity of facial patterns and thus preclude any overlearned responses to specific facial codes. Accordingly, it was proposed that morph stimuli would disrupt more detailed emotional identification to reveal a valence response independent of a specific identifiable emotion (Balconi & Lucchiari, 2005; Schweinberger, Burton & Kelly, 1999). ERP results revealed early-latency differentiation between positive, neutral, and negative morph facial expressions approximately 108 milliseconds post-stimulus (P1) within the right electrode cluster; negative morph facial expressions continued to elicit significantly smaller ERP amplitudes than other valence categories approximately 164 milliseconds post-stimulus (N170). Consistent with previous imaging research on emotional facial expression processing, source localization revealed substantial dipole activation within regions of the mesolimbic dopamine system. Thus, these findings confirm rapid valence processing of facial expressions and suggest that negative valence processing may continue to modulate subsequent structural facial processing.


Senior thesis completed December 2011.