Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Cynthia R. Cimino, Ph. D.

Committee Member

Geoffery Potts, Ph. D.

Committee Member

Douglas Rohrer, Ph. D.


Old/New effects, Electrophysiology, ERPs, Neuropsychology, Cognition


Evidence suggests that emotion affects memory often yielding enhanced recall and recognition of stimuli with emotional content. The nature of the relationship between emotion and memory for words has been particularly difficult to parse in part because of the stimulus characteristics. For example, emotional words tend to engender greater levels of physiological and psychological arousal, which have also been shown to enhance memory. Inter item relatedness has also been suggested as playing a part in the observed effects (i.e., emotional words belong to a closed semantic category compared to neutral words and are therefore easier to remember). While the enhancement of memory for emotional material has been demonstrated across a variety of stimuli and experimental conditions, the neural underpinnings of these effects remain unclear. The Old/New effect is an event related potential finding where electrophysiologic waveforms elicited by previously presented stimuli (i.e., old) are more positive going than those elicited by stimuli that were not previously presented (i.e., new). A few prior studies have investigated Old/New effects for emotional words, mostly comparing negative to neutral words and failing to equate their stimuli for the crucial confounding effects of arousal and inter item relatedness. The present study employed event related potentials to investigate recognition memory for words of positive, negative, and neutral valences in a sample of thirty healthy college undergraduates. It was predicted that positive and negative words would yield greater participant accuracy, response bias and Old/New effects in comparison to neutral words. The observed results yielded some variability in support for all of the hypotheses and predictions that were made a priori. Possible explanations for these results are discussed and directions for future research recommended.