Cognitive Daily

Memory and swearing

I have a vague memory of having written something about curse words on Cognitive Daily before. However, I’m almost certain I’ve never written about false memories in children. Maybe something about eyewitness testimony, but not false memories.

You probably know the punch line: I’ve written about all those things. So why do I remember the study about swearing better than the others?

Chris at Mixing Memory discusses a study which shows that we remember both “taboo words” — and the context in which they were presented — better than other words. The six-experiment study involved memorizing lists of words. What were the results?

The memory for the words was better for negative words than neutral words, but best for taboo words. In addition, people remembered the context (color of the word) in which the word had been presented better for taboo words than either of the other types (44% for taboo words, 31% and 25% for negative and neutral words, respectively). The results of Experiments 5 and 6 were similar to those of Experiments 3 and 4: negative words remembered better than neutral words, but taboo words remembered best of all.

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.

One of the commenters at Mixing Memory points to another study about context and taboo words, by Donald MacKay and Marat Ahmetzanov. That, as it turns out, is the study I mentioned in the intro to this post. You can read the whole thing here.

In other news:

Comments

  1. #1 David Group
    December 11, 2006

    Holy #^$#! What a fascinating #@*&% study. I’ll have to %&&%& remember that next $%&** time I go for a $^%## job interview.

  2. #2 Maxine
    December 14, 2006

    Thank you, Dave — sorry to miss your welcome. I will have to have a stern word with my rss reader. It was very kind of you to give us a mention.