Processing negative valence of word pairs that include a positive word

Oksana Itkes, Nira Mashal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous research has suggested that cognitive performance is interrupted by negative relative to neutral or positive stimuli. We examined whether negative valence affects performance at the word or phrase level. Participants performed a semantic decision task on word pairs that included either a negative or a positive target word. In Experiment 1, the valence of the target word was congruent with the overall valence conveyed by the word pair (e.g., fat kid). As expected, response times were slower in the negative condition relative to the positive condition. Experiment 2 included target words that were incongruent with the overall valence of the word pair (e.g., fat salary). Response times were longer for word pairs whose overall valence was negative relative to positive, even though these word pairs included a positive word. Our findings support the Cognitive Primacy Hypothesis, according to which emotional valence is extracted after conceptual processing is complete.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1180-1187
Number of pages8
JournalCognition and Emotion
Issue number6
StatePublished - 17 Aug 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Taylor & Francis.


  • Affective primacy
  • Automatic vigilance
  • Cognitive primacy
  • Valence
  • Word pair processing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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