How do valence and meaning interact? The contribution of semantic control

Nicholas E. Souter*, Ariyana Reddy, Jake Walker, Julián Marino Dávolos, Elizabeth Jefferies

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The hub-and-spoke model of semantic cognition proposes that conceptual representations in a heteromodal ‘hub’ interact with and emerge from modality-specific features or ‘spokes’, including valence (whether a concept is positive or negative), along with visual and auditory features. As a result, valence congruency might facilitate our ability to link words conceptually. Semantic relatedness may similarly affect explicit judgements about valence. Moreover, conflict between meaning and valence may recruit semantic control processes. Here we tested these predictions using two-alternative forced-choice tasks, in which participants matched a probe word to one of two possible target words, based on either global meaning or valence. Experiment 1 examined timed responses in healthy young adults, while Experiment 2 examined decision accuracy in semantic aphasia patients with impaired controlled semantic retrieval following left hemisphere stroke. Across both experiments, semantically related targets facilitated valence matching, while related distractors impaired performance. Valence congruency was also found to facilitate semantic decision-making. People with semantic aphasia showed impaired valence matching and had particular difficulty when semantically related distractors were presented, suggesting that the selective retrieval of valence information relies on semantic control processes. Taken together, the results are consistent with the hypothesis that automatic access to the global meaning of written words affects the processing of valence, and that the valence of words is also retrieved even when this feature is task-irrelevant, affecting the efficiency of global semantic judgements.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)521-539
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Neuropsychology
Issue number3
Early online date3 Apr 2023
Publication statusPublished - 6 Sept 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The study was funded by an ERC Consolidator grant to EJ (FLEXSEM – 771863).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors. Journal of Neuropsychology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of The British Psychological Society.


  • aphasia
  • congruency
  • semantic
  • stroke
  • valence

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