A density explanation of valence asymmetries in recognition memory

Hans Alves, Christian Unkelbach, Juliane Burghardt, Alex S. Koch, Tobias Krüger, David Becker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


The density hypothesis states that positive information is more similar than negative information, resulting in higher density of positive information in mental representations. The present research applies the density hypothesis to recognition memory to explain apparent valence asymmetries in recognition memory, namely, a recognition advantage for negative information. Previous research explained this negativity advantage on the basis of valence-induced affect. We predicted that positive information’s higher density impairs recognition performance. Two old–new word recognition experiments tested whether differential density between positive and negative stimuli creates a negativity advantage in recognition memory, over and above valence-induced affect. In Experiment 1, participants better discriminated negative word stimuli (i.e., less false alarms) and showed a response bias towards positive words. Regression analyses showed the asymmetry to be function of density and not of valence. Experiment 2 varied stimulus density orthogonal to valence. Again, discriminability and response bias were a function of density and not of valence. We conclude that the higher density of positive information causes an apparent valence asymmetry in recognition memory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)896-909
Number of pages14
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number6
StatePublished - Aug 30 2015


  • Affect
  • Density
  • Negativity bias
  • Recognition
  • Valence asymmetries

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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