Exposure to pleasant and rewarding visual stimuli can bias people's choices towards either immediate or delayed gratification. We hypothesised that this phenomenon might be based on carry-over effects from a fast, unconscious assessment of the abstract ‘time reference’ of a stimuli, i.e. how the stimulus relates to one's personal understanding and connotation of time. Here we investigated whether participants' post-experiment ratings of task-irrelevant, positive background visual stimuli for the dimensions ‘arousal’ (used as a control condition) and ‘time reference’ were related to differences in single-channel event-related potentials (ERPs) and whether they could be predicted from spatio-temporal patterns of ERPs. Participants performed a demanding foreground choice-reaction task while on each trial one task-irrelevant image (depicting objects, people and scenes) was presented in the background. Conventional ERP analyses as well as multivariate support vector regression (SVR) analyses were conducted to predict participants' subsequent ratings. We found that only SVR allowed both ‘arousal’ and ‘time reference’ ratings to be predicted during the first 200 ms post-stimulus. This demonstrates an early, automatic semantic stimulus analysis, which might be related to the high relevance of ‘time reference’ to everyday decision-making and preference formation.
Bode, S., Bennett, D., Stahl, J., & Murawski, C. (2014). Distributed patterns of event-related potentials predict subsequent ratings of abstract stimulus attributes. PLoS ONE, 9(10). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0109070