Emotion from the sound of a word: Statistical relationships between surface form and valence of English words influence lexical access and memory


It is generally accepted that a word’s emotional valence (i.e., whether a word is perceived as positive, negative, or neutral) influences how it is accessed and remembered. There is also evidence that the affective content of some words is represented in nonarbitrary sound-meaning associations (i.e., emotional sound symbolism). We investigated whether more extensive statistical relationships exist between the surface form properties of English words and ratings of their emotional valence, that is, form typicality. We found significant form typicality for both valence and extremity of valence (the absolute distance from the midpoint of the rating scale, regardless of polarity). Next, using behavioral megastudy data sets, we show that measures of emotional form typicality are significant predictors of lexical access during written and auditory lexical decision and reading aloud tasks in addition to recognition memory performance. These findings show nonarbitrary form-valence mappings in English are accessed automatically during language and verbal memory processing. We discuss how these findings might be incorporated into theoretical accounts that implement Bayesian statistical inference.

Journal of Experimental Psychology: General