In two experiments, we examined event-related potentials (ERPs) elicited in an old/new recognition memory test by emotionally neutral visual objects that, at encoding, had been associated with neutrally, negatively, or positively valenced background contexts. In Experiment 2, subjects also judged the context in which the item had been studied. In Experiment 1, “left parietal” old/new ERP effects were elicited by correctly recognized items. Items encoded in emotional contexts, but not those studied in neutral contexts, elicited additional effects early in the recording epoch over lateral temporal scalp and, later, over left temporo-frontal scalp. In Experiment 2, “left parietal” and “right frontal” ERP effects were elicited by recognized items that attracted correct source judgments. Additional effects, an early lateral temporal positivity and a late-onset, left-sided positivity, were elicited by items studied in emotionally valenced contexts and attracting correct source judgments. Together, the findings indicate that retrieval processing is influenced by the emotional valence of the context in which an item is encoded, regardless of whether contextual information is task relevant.

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