The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

13 December 2006

Murthafarkin' mnemonics

If you want someone to remember what you said, throw in a friggin' vulgarism or three:

Kensinger and Corkin hypothesized that emotionally negative words would be remembered better than neutral words (in general, people remember negative things better than neutral things, so the prediction wasn't that much of a stretch), and in six experiments, they confirmed this prediction. Negative words were consistently remembered better than neutral words. But in four of the experiments (3-6), another type of words was remembered better than negative words: taboo words.

Kensinger and Corkin used taboo words (words for sexual body parts and swear words), starting in Experiment 3, to test whether the memory benefit of negative emotional valence was separable from arousal. The taboo words they picked had higher emotional valences (i.e., they were less negative) than the negative words, and their valences were only slightly lower (i.e., more negative) than the neutral words. The arousal scores (how arousing they were) for taboo words were much higher than either the neutral words or the negative words (which were less arousing than the neutral words).

The lesson Kensinger and Corkin take away from this is booooooring: the effects of negative emotional valence and arousal on memory are separable. Yawn! The cool lesson is that we remember words for sexual body parts and swear words really well, and the memory benefit extends to the context in which they were presented! So, next time you're having a conversation with someone, and you really want them to remember what you're saying, use as many swear words and words for sexual body parts as you can.

(Via Steph Mineart, who says "No shit. I've said this for years.")

Posted at 11:20 AM to Almost Yogurt