The aim of this study was to delineate the influence of the emotional content of stimuli to be remembered on the recognition performance of normal subjects by means of the event-related potential (ERP) technique. When words are presented repeatedly, brain responses to repeated and recognized items are characterized by a more positive waveform, referred to as ‘old/new effect’. Words judged for their emotional connotation (‘negative’, ‘positive’ and ‘neutral’) were presented successively on a video monitor to subjects, who had the task to indicate whether a given word occurred for the first (‘new’) or second (‘old’) time within the list by pressing one of two buttons. For each word category, the ERPs of the old words were more positive compared to those of the new items from about 250 ms after stimulus. The old/new effect was significantly enhanced for the negative and positive items compared to the neutral stimuli between 450 and 650 ms after stimulus pointing to a significant influence of the emotional content of words on verbal memory processes. This paradigm appears to be feasible to investigate interactions of emotion and cognition in psychiatric patients.

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