Academic journal article Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality

Priming Effects upon Memory for Double Entendre Words

Academic journal article Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality

Priming Effects upon Memory for Double Entendre Words

Article excerpt


This paper reports a study that examines the effect of priming upon memory for double entendre (DE) words. There is significant literature demonstrating that emotional stimuli are better remembered than are nonemotional stimuli (Kensinger & Corkin, 2003). It has been argued that this effect serves an adaptive function. That is, the ability to more clearly remember emotional stimuli helps to prepare the individual for similar and likely important future experiences (Nielson & Powless, 2007). As an alternative explanation Talmi & Moscovitch (2004) suggest that organizational processes such as found in categories of words (for example, emotional) facilitate memory enhancement.

The finding that sexually explicit words are experienced as emotional may explain why they are remembered better than neutral words (Bush & Geer, 2001; Hadley & MacKay, 2006). Similar findings have been reported at a less detailed level in the study of memory for sexually explicit versus nonexplicit stories. In that research, explicit details are better remembered than nonexplicit details (McCall, Rellini, Seal, & Meston, 2007). Similarly, the concept of source memory in relation to emotional and nonemotional words has been studied. Doerksen and Shimamura (2001) in their study of source memory found that participants more accurately remembered surrounding contexts of emotional words than nonemotional words. Kensinger and Corkin (2003) found similar results. In one of their experiments they incorporated the use of arousal words instead of just emotional words. They defined arousal words as either sexual or swear words that were ranked higher on arousal than emotional words. They found that arousing words had greater recognition, recall, and source memory than emotional or neutral words.

Gender differences in lexical decisions concerning sexual words have been reported. In Geer & Bellard (1996) it was found that women's identification of letter strings as words (lexical decisions) were delayed when presented with sexual words as compared with romantic words. This finding reveals an effect of meaning category on a basic level of information processing. In a similar finding McCall et al. (2007) reported that men recalled more erotic or explicit details of a story while women were more likely to remember love and emotional bonding details. Because of these findings of gender differences in the processing of sexual material, in the present research gender differences are examined.

In English many words have more than one meaning. Of interest to this work is the well-known fact that there are English words that have both sexual and nonsexual meanings. These words, typically referred to as DE, provide us with the possibility that the same word may vary in its memorability depending upon which of the meanings is activated by primes. By using the same word following different primes, it is possible to control for variables related to the target word's characteristics, such as familiarity, length, pleasantness, emotionality and acceptability. By altering only the types of words that precede the DE words, two different contexts can be created while avoiding confounds that are associated with using different target words when studying two or more contexts. It was predicted that DE words, when primed by sexually explicit associates would be remembered more accurately than the same DE words that were primed by associates of the nonsexual meaning of the DE words.



Participants were 31 male and 33 female undergraduates who received course credit for participation in research. Participants were randomly assigned to the conditions of either the sexual priming list or the nonsexual priming list. Participants who were scheduled to receive sexually explicit words were so informed and told that declining to participate would not have any negative consequences. …

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