Recognition memory advantage for negative emotional words has an early expiry date: Evidence from brain oscillations and ERPs

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Evidence from prior studies has shown an advantage in recognition memory for emotional compared to neutral words. Whether this advantage is short-lived or rather extends over longer periods, as well as whether the effect depends on words’ valence (i.e., positive or negative), remains unknown. In the present ERP/EEG study, we investigated this issue by manipulating the lag distance (LAG-2, LAG-8 and LAG-16) between the presentation of old and new words in an online recognition memory task. LAG differences were observed at behavior, ERPs and in the theta frequency band. In line with previous studies, negative words were associated with faster reaction times, higher hit rates and increased amplitude in a positive ERP component between 386 and 564 ms compared to positive and neutral words. Remarkably, the interaction of LAG by EMOTION revealed that negative words were associated with better performance and larger ERPs amplitudes only at LAG-2. Also in the LAG-2 condition, emotional words (i.e., positive and negative words) induced a stronger desynchronization in the beta band between 386 and 542 ms compared to neutral words. These early enhanced memory effects for emotional words are discussed in terms of the Negative Emotional Valence Enhances Recapitulation (NEVER) model and the mobilization-minimization hypothesis.

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