Emotional information is treated differently than any other type of information and has a powerful impact on many cognitive processes, particularly attention. As there are currently two opposing theories about how emotion influences attention, the aim of this study was to test both categorical negativity theory and the arousal hypothesis simultaneously. Categorical negativity theory suggests that the valence of a word (how positive or negative it is) is what truly influences how emotional information receives attention, while the arousal hypothesis posits that the arousal level of a word (how stimulating or salient it is) determines the amount of attention it receives. In the current work, we used the rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) task to investigate interactions between valence and arousal. The valence and arousal levels of positive and negative emotion words were manipulated within the context of full-sentence reading. Analyses revealed that positive words appeared to benefit from repetition, while negative and neutral word recall was decreased by repetition. Additionally, there was an interaction of valence and arousal, such that high and low arousal values impacted positive word recall differently, but did not have any effect on the recall of negative words. Overall, the results suggest an emotional memory enhancement effect, exclusive to positive emotion words. These findings indicate the need for a new theory to accommodate evidence that both valence and arousal play a role in the attentional capture of emotion words.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Attention--Testing; Emotions and cognition; Language and emotions; Discourse analysis--Psychological aspects; Human information processing

Publication Date


Document Type


Student Type


Degree Name

Experimental Psychology (MS)

Department, Program, or Center

Psychology (CLA)


Tina Sutton

Advisor/Committee Member

Rebecca Houston

Advisor/Committee Member

Kristen Diliberto-Macaluso


RIT – Main Campus

Plan Codes