People remember emotional and taboo words better than neutral words. It is well known that words that are processed at a deep (i.e., semantic) level are recalled better than words processed at a shallow (i.e., purely visual) level. To determine how depth of processing influences recall of emotional and taboo words, a levels of processing paradigm was used. Whether this effect holds for emotional and taboo words has not been previously investigated. Two experiments demonstrated that taboo and emotional words benefit less from deep processing than do neutral words. This is consistent with the proposal that memories for taboo and emotional words are a function of the arousal level they evoke, even under shallow encoding conditions. Recall was higher for taboo words, even when taboo words were cued to be recalled after neutral and emotional words. The superiority of taboo word recall is consistent with cognitive neuroscience and brain imaging research.
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