Memory & Cognition

, Volume 31, Issue 8, pp 1169-1180

First online:

Memory enhancement for emotional words: Are emotional words more vividly remembered than neutral words?

  • Elizabeth A. KensingerAffiliated withDepartment of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Email author 
  • , Suzanne CorkinAffiliated withDepartment of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Individuals are more likely to remember negative information than neutral information. In the experiments reported here, we examined whether individuals were also more likely to remember details of the presentation of negative words, as compared with neutral words. In Experiment 1, the remember-know procedure was used to examine the effect of emotion on the vividness of an individual’s memory, showing thatremember responses were more frequently assigned to negative words than neutral words. In Experiment 2, a source memory paradigm was used, and again, evidence that individuals’ memories were more detailed for negative than for neutral words was found. In Experiments 3–6, we examined the relative contribution of valence and arousal, finding that both dimensions increased the vividness of remembered information (i.e., items with valence only and those that elicited arousal were better remembered than neutral information) but that the effect was greater for words that evoked arousal than for those with valence only. The results support a qualitative, as well as a quantitative, memory benefit for emotional, as compared with neutral, words.