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ERP indices of emotionality and semantic cohesiveness during recognition judgments


  • This project was supported by grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) to J.D. and S.J.S. and an NSERC doctoral fellowship to H.M. Heather McNeely is now at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 250 College St., Toronto, Ontario, Canada. We would like to thank Mike Dixon for his suggestions in designing Experiment 2, Claude Alain for helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript, Sheila Lawson for her assistance with data collection, and James Desjardins for preparing the figures.

Address reprint requests to: Jane Dywan, Psychology Department, Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario, L2S 3A1, Canada. E-mail:


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.

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