Memory & Cognition

, Volume 32, Issue 3, pp 474-488

Relations between emotion, memory, and attention: Evidence from taboo Stroop, lexical decision, and immediate memory tasks

  • Donald G. MackayAffiliated withPsychology Dept., UCLA Email author 
  • , Meredith ShaftoAffiliated withPsychology Dept., UCLA
  • , Jennifer K. TaylorAffiliated withPsychology Dept., UCLA
  • , Diane E. MarianAffiliated withPsychology Dept., UCLA
  • , Lise AbramsAffiliated withPsychology Dept., UCLA
  • , Jennifer R. DyerAffiliated withPsychology Dept., UCLA


This article reports five experiments demonstrating theoretically coherent effects of emotion on memory and attention. Experiments 1–3 demonstrated three taboo Stroop effects that occur when people name the color of taboo words. One effect is longer color-naming times for taboo than for neutral words, an effect that diminishes with word repetition. The second effect is superior recall of taboo words in surprise memory tests following color naming. The third effect is better recognition memory for colors consistently associated with taboo words rather than with neutral words. None of these effects was due to retrieval factors, attentional disengagement processes, response inhibition, or strategic attention shifts. Experiments 4 and 5 demonstrated that taboo words impair immediate recall of the preceding and succeeding words in rapidly presented lists but do not impair lexical decision times. We argue that taboo words trigger specific emotional reactions that facilitate the binding of taboo word meaning to salient contextual aspects, such as occurrence in a task and font color in taboo Stroop tasks.