This study examined whether the emotional memory effect (i.e., superior recall for emotionally arousing events relative to neutral events) is sensitive to encoding instructions focusing participants’ attention on denotation, connotation, or surface information and on the passage of time. Participants encoded taboo and neutral words under one type of instructions and then performed a free recall task after a variable delay. Attention to denotation negatively affected the emotional memory effect. Time elapsed from encoding weakened recall of neutral words but not of emotional words. These findings suggest that although attentional control can influence the emotional memory effect, distinctiveness can shield retrieval of taboo words from the passage of time.

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