The phenomenon of affective priming has caught scientific interest for over 30 years, yet the nature of the affective priming effect remains elusive. This study investigated the underlying mechanism of cross-modal affective priming and the influence of affective incongruence in music and speech on negativities in the N400 time-window. In Experiment 1, participants judged the valence of affective targets (affective categorization). We found that music and speech targets were evaluated faster when preceded by affectively congruent visual word primes, and vice versa. This affective priming effect was accompanied by a significantly larger N400-like effect following incongruent targets. In this experiment, both spreading of activation and response competition could underlie the affective priming effect. In Experiment 2, participants categorized the same affective targets based on nonaffective characteristics. However, as prime valence was irrelevant to the response dimension, affective priming effects could no longer be attributable to response competition. In Experiment 2, affective priming effects were observed neither at the behavioral nor electrophysiological level. The results of this study indicate that both affective music and speech prosody can prime the processing of visual words with emotional connotations, and vice versa. Affective incongruence seems to be associated with N400-like effects during evaluative categorization. The present data further suggest a role of response competition during the affective categorization of music, prosody, and words with emotional connotations.

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