The acute effects of the herbal anxiolytic Kava-kava (Piper methysticum G. Forster) on emotional reactivity and cognitive performance were investigated in a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trial involving healthy volunteers. Subjects' reports of mood change were assessed with the state-trait-cheerfulness-inventory, which measures the three concepts of cheerfulness, seriousness and bad mood as both traits and states. Cognitive performance was examined with the Sperling partial report and the Sternberg item recognition task, which were used as an index for visual attention and short-term memory processing. The intake of a single dose of Kava extract (300 mg; p.o.) led to an increase in state cheerfulness, while the phytopharmacon did not influence state seriousness and bad mood. The mood-elevating effects of Kava were most prominent in trait cheerful subjects, indicating that trait cheerfulness moderated the drug-induced increase in cheerful mood. Furthermore, Kava improved the accuracy and the speed of performing the partial report and the item recognition task, indicative of a beneficial effect of the phytopharmacon on visual attention and short-term memory retrieval, respectively. Thus, unlike conventional benzodiazepine-type anxiolytics, which tend to impair cognitive performance and to increase the occurrence of negative affective states, Kava is a potent anxiolytic agent, which, additionally, can facilitate cognitive functioning and can increase positive affectivity related to exhilaration.