Words are social constructs, relying on collectively agreed upon meanings for their significance. Certain words, such as taboo or swear words, are more strongly dictated by social norms and understandings than other, non-taboo words. This effect of context can be seen in general in highly proficient second language (L2) learners, who report their first language (L1) as more emotional than L2, extending to a preference for swearing in L1. This difference in affective perception is likely due to the L2 being learned in an academic, rather than naturalistic, context where the words did not acquire any social salience. These emotional effects of language and swearing have been shown to influence the event related potential (ERP) components of early posterior negativity (EPN) and late positive complex (LPC). The current study utilized American and British taboo (AT and BT) words presented to native speakers of American English with limited direct contact to British English speakers. The lexical decision task was recorded using EEG, wherein previously matched negative, positive, and neutral words were compared to AT and BT. BT had lower accuracy and slower RT than other categories, likely due to their reduced frequency of use. Only AT showed an increased LPC, showing that context may influence explicit, affective processing of taboo words. Despite considering the BT words as being taboo, they were not processed as AT because they do not have the same social significance, gained through direct interaction. Therefore, language learning should include social elements to gain a fuller language understanding.


Herzmann, Grit




Cognitive Neuroscience

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis

Available for download on Thursday, January 01, 2026



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