Murder, She Wrote: Enhanced Sensitivity to Negative Word Valence

Maha Nasrallah, Nilli Lavie, David Carmel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Enhanced sensitivity to information of negative (compared to positive) valence has an adaptive value, for example, by expediting the correct choice of avoidance behavior. However, previous evidence for such enhanced sensitivity has been inconclusive. Here we report a clear advantage for negative over positive words in categorizing them as emotional. In 3 experiments, participants classified briefly presented (33 ms or 22 ms) masked words as emotional or neutral. Categorization accuracy and valence-detection sensitivity were both higher for negative than for positive words. The results were not due to differences between emotion categories in either lexical frequency, extremeness of valence ratings, or arousal. These results conclusively establish enhanced sensitivity for negative over positive words, supporting the hypothesis that negative stimuli enjoy preferential access to perceptual processing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)609-618
Number of pages10
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2009


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