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Cognition. 2013 Dec;129(3):530-5. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2013.08.014. Epub 2013 Sep 14.

Emotion and memory: a recognition advantage for positive and negative words independent of arousal.

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Department of Psychology, University of Warwick, Gibbet Hill Road, Coventry CV4 7AL, UK. Electronic address:


Much evidence indicates that emotion enhances memory, but the precise effects of the two primary factors of arousal and valence remain at issue. Moreover, the current knowledge of emotional memory enhancement is based mostly on small samples of extremely emotive stimuli presented in unnaturally high proportions without adequate affective, lexical, and semantic controls. To investigate how emotion affects memory under conditions of natural variation, we tested whether arousal and valence predicted recognition memory for over 2500 words that were not sampled for their emotionality, and we controlled a large variety of lexical and semantic factors. Both negative and positive stimuli were remembered better than neutral stimuli, whether arousing or calming. Arousal failed to predict recognition memory, either independently or interactively with valence. Results support models that posit a facilitative role of valence in memory. This study also highlights the importance of stimulus controls and experimental designs in research on emotional memory.


Arousal; Emotion; Memory; Recognition; Valence

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