Skip to main content


Front. Commun., 13 March 2023
Sec. Psychology of Language
Volume 8 - 2023 |

Editorial: How emotion relates to language, memory, and cognition

  • 1Department of Psychology, Lancaster University, Lancaster, United Kingdom
  • 2Department of Psychology, University of Nebraska Omaha, Omaha, NE, United States
  • 3College of Arts and Sciences, Psychology, Creighton University, Omaha, NE, United States

In cognitive neuroscience, the role of the cerebral cortex in sensation and movement was known long before the emotion neural network (e.g., Libet et al., 1964). Similarly, theoretical models of reading and empirical research on word recognition had not considered the relevance of words' emotive content until about 20 years ago. Then, research supporting the automatic vigilance hypothesis (Pratto and John, 1991) and subsequent megastudies showed that affective dimensions such as emotional valence and arousal affect word processing, above and beyond sub-lexical, lexical and semantic word properties (e.g., Larsen et al., 2006; Kuperman et al., 2014; Cortese and Khanna, 2022). Using a similar approach, Grzybowski et al. generated a database of state, trait, and hybrid positive and negative Polish adjectives of moderate to high arousal, which complements existing Polish word databases, and can be used alongside them to create personality and mood questionnaires as well as for other affective language research, more generally.

Concurrently, neurophysiological research showed that emotive words can trigger fast and automatic activation of the emotion neural network, similarly to actual threatening objects or distressful scenes. For example, evolutionary-relevant words are distinguished from neutral words around 200–300 ms, when we match word forms to our mental lexicon, and long before we gain full access to a word's meaning (around 400 ms; e.g., Kissler et al., 2007; Citron, 2012).

Considering these findings, single words represent excellent tools to investigate and devise treatments for different psychopathologies. For instance, in the emotional Stroop task, words can activate disorder-related concepts (Khanna et al., 2016). Furthermore, texts or discourse describing personal situations can reveal information on mental health conditions (e.g., Herbert et al., 2019). In particular, through sentiment analysis, the use and frequency of certain linguistic features can indicate different psychopathologies. Interestingly, Du could predict mental states of writer Virginia Wolff from her diary and biography. Sentiment analysis represents a powerful tool not only with regard to literary texts, spontaneous speech and mental health; it can also be used to analyze political speech. In fact, Whissell identified changes and stable features over time in US presidential candidates' nomination acceptance speeches. Further to literary texts, Hugentobler and Lüdtke investigated the effect of semantic cohesion on aesthetic appreciation of poems. Aiming to isolate semantic cohesion from other potential sources of appreciation, they presented word lists as modern micro poems to participants, who could more easily understand, appreciate and extract underlying concepts from cohesive micro-poems, as evidenced by several explicit and implicit measures.

Other empirical contributions in this Research Topic were concerned with more theoretical or conceptual distinctions with regards to affective language. In a novel ERP contribution, Wu et al. expanded their previous work on affective priming to explore the conceptual distinction between emotion-label and emotion-laden words originally posited by Altarriba and Basnight-Brown (2011); they tested the hypothesis that emotion-laden words cannot prime emotion-label words and provided a detailed timeline of these priming effects through ERPs. A very different contribution, also based on priming, comes from Rohr and Wentura, who reviewed and critically evaluated 20 years of research on evaluative priming paradigms, to then present a new model based on short-term memory representations. One of their conclusions was that the prime's emotional valence is automatically activated only if relevant to task goals.

However, language is first and foremost humans' means of communication, and verbal interactions are based on the comprehension of meaning in context. Three contributions go beyond single-word processing to examine the relationship of emotion and language in discourse. Struiksma et al. explored the electrophysiological responses to repeated insults toward the participant or a third party, comparing them with compliments and neutral statements, and revealing a very interesting picture. Israel et al. measured eye-movements and pupil dilation during the comprehension of humorous discourse, providing a timeline of situation model revision; the study also revealed an additional affective reaction compared to non-humorous discourse. Finally, Lai et al. reported an ERP study showing participants' mood or affective state can influence conversational exchanges. In particular, mood had differential effects on discourse comprehension at late processing stages, when either world knowledge, discourse context or both are used to make sense of the discourse; mood did not affect meaning retrieval per se.

Author contributions

FMMC drafted the editorial. MMK and MJC further contributed to it. All authors contributed to the article and approved the submitted version.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher's note

All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.


Altarriba, J., and Basnight-Brown, D. M. (2011). The representation of emotion vs. emotion-laden words in English and Spanish in the affective simon task. Int. J. Bilingual. 15, 310–328. doi: 10.1177/1367006910379261

CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Citron, F. M. M. (2012). Neural correlates of written emotion word processing: A review of recent electrophysiological and hemodynamic neuroimaging studies. Brain Lang. 122, 211–226. doi: 10.1016/j.bandl.2011.12.007

PubMed Abstract | CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Cortese, M. J., and Khanna, M. M. (2022). Relating emotional variables to recognition memory performance: a large-scale re-analysis of megastudy data. Memory 30, 915–922. doi: 10.1080/09658211.2022.2055080

PubMed Abstract | CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Herbert, C., Bendig, E., and Rojas, R. (2019). My sadness - Our happiness: Writing about positive, negative, and neutral autobiographical events reveals linguistic markers of self-positivity and individual well-being. Front. Psychol. 9, 2522. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02522

PubMed Abstract | CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Khanna, M. M., Badura-Brack, A. S., McDermott, T. J., Shepherd, A., Heinrichs-Graham, E., Pine, D. S., et al. (2016). Attention training normalises combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder effects on emotional Stroop performance using lexically matched word lists. Cogn. Emot. 30, 1521–1528. doi: 10.1080/02699931.2015.1076769

PubMed Abstract | CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Kissler, J., Herbert, C., Peyk, P., and Junghofer, M. (2007). Buzzwords. Early cortical responses to emotional words during reading. Psychol. Sci. 18, 475–480. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2007.01924.x

PubMed Abstract | CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Kuperman, V., Estes, Z., Brysbaert, M., and Warriner, A. B. (2014). Emotion and language: Valence and arousal affect word recognition. J. Exper. Psychol. 143, 1065–1081. doi: 10.1037/a0035669

PubMed Abstract | CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Larsen, R. J., Mercer, K. A., and Balota, D. A. (2006). Lexical characteristics of words used in emotional Stroop experiments. Emotion 6, 62–72. doi: 10.1037/1528-3542.6.1.62

PubMed Abstract | CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Libet, B., Alberts, W. W., Wright, E. W. Jr., Delattre, L. D., Levine, G., and Feinstein, B. (1964). Production of threshold levels of conscious sensation by electrical stimulation of human somatosensory cortex. J. Neurophysiol. 27, 546–578. doi: 10.1152/jn.1964.27.4.546

PubMed Abstract | CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Pratto, F., and John, O. P. (1991). Automatic vigilance: the attention-grabbing power of negative social information. J. Person. Soc. Psychol. 61, 380–391. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.61.3.380

PubMed Abstract | CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Keywords: emotive words, affective priming, sentiment analysis, mental health, discourse, pragmatics, emotion

Citation: Citron FMM, Cortese MJ and Khanna MM (2023) Editorial: How emotion relates to language, memory, and cognition. Front. Commun. 8:1170912. doi: 10.3389/fcomm.2023.1170912

Received: 21 February 2023; Accepted: 28 February 2023;
Published: 13 March 2023.

Edited and reviewed by: Xiaolin Zhou, Peking University, China

Copyright © 2023 Citron, Cortese and Khanna. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Francesca M. M. Citron,