Event-related potentials (ERPs) were used to examine the impact of emotionality on false recognition. In Experiment 1, participants discriminated previously studied words from neutral and negatively valenced emotional foils. Emotional words elicited a more positive ERP than did neutral words and emotional foils were falsely recognized more often than neutral foils. In Experiment 2, the hypothesis that emotionality-based false recognition is due to the semantic cohesiveness of emotional words was tested by including a highly associated but emotionally neutral category (animals). It was emotional and not animal foils that elicited greater positivity in the ERP and increased false positive response. These data provide little support for semantic cohesiveness as the basis for false recognition effects, but are consistent with the view that the salience of emotional words can be falsely attributed to familiarity in the context of a recognition task.