Memory & Cognition

, Volume 36, Issue 6, pp 1151-1156

The mnemonic advantage of processing fitness-relevant information

  • Sean H. K. KangAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Washington University Email author 
  • , Kathleen B. McDermottAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Washington University
  • , Sophie M. CohenAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Washington University


Nairne, Thompson, and Pandeirada (2007) proposed that our memory systems serve an adaptive function and that they have evolved to help us remember fitness-relevant information. In a series of experiments, they demonstrated that processing words according to their survival relevance resulted in better retention than did rating them for pleasantness, personal relevance, or relevance to moving to a new house. The aim of the present study was to examine whether the advantage of survival processing could be replicated, using a control condition that was designed to match the survival processing task in arousal, novelty, and media exposure—the relevance to planning a bank heist. We found that survival processing nonetheless yielded better retention on both a recall (Experiment 1) and a recognition (Experiment 2) test. This mnemonic advantage of survival processing was also obtained when words were rated for their relevance to a character depicted in a video clip (Experiment 3). Our findings provide additional evidence that the mnemonic benefit of survival processing is a robust phenomenon, and they also support the utility of adopting a functional perspective in investigating memory.