Mareike Bayer, Werner Sommer and Annekathrin Schacht

Emotional words impact the mind but not the body: Evidence from pupillary responses.


Abstract: Pupillary responses have been shown to be sensitive to both task load and emotional content. We investigated the interplay of these factors in the processing of single words that varied in emotional valence and arousal. Two tasks of different cognitive load, uninstructed reading and a lexical decision task, were employed, followed by an unannounced recognition task. Reaction times were faster and incidental memory performance was better for high‐arousing than for low‐arousing words. In contrast to previous findings for pictures and sounds, high‐arousing words elicited smaller pupillary responses than low‐arousing words; these effects were independent of task load, which increased pupil diameter. Therefore, emotional arousal attributed to words does not mandatorily activate the autonomic nervous system, but rather works on a cognitive level, facilitating word processing.