Affective valence influences both our cognition and our perception of the world. For example, the speed and quality with which we recognize objects in a visual scene can vary dramatically depending on its affective content. Affective processing has been typically studied using only stimuli with strong affective valences (e.g., guns or roses). In this thesis, we explored whether affective valence must be strong or obvious to exert an effect on our perception. We conducted a series of behavioral and functional neuroimaging experiments. We found that participants consistently perceive the micro-valences in objects. We further found that the perception of an object's micro-valence is coded in a graded fashion by the same neural system that codes for objects perceived to have a clear and pronounced valence. This suggests that what we had captured in the behavioral experiments was in fact valence, as we know it. And moreover, we determined that this micro-valence could impact the speed with which we are able to perceptually distinguish between different everyday objects. From these studies we conclude that most everyday objects have affective valence ("micro-valences") and, thus, nominally "neutral" objects are not really neutral.
"'Micro-valences': Affective valence in 'neutral' everyday objects"
Cognitive Sciences Theses and Dissertations.
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