Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 1399–1404 | Cite as

Adaptive memory: Is the animacy effect on memory due to emotional arousal?

  • Martin J. MeinhardtEmail author
  • Raoul Bell
  • Axel Buchner
  • Jan P. Röer
Brief Report


Animate entities are often better remembered than inanimate ones. The proximal mechanisms underlying this animacy effect on recall are unclear. In two experiments, we tested whether the animacy effect is due to emotional arousal. Experiment 1 revealed that translations of the animate words used in the pioneering study of Nairne et al. (Psychological science, 24, 2099–2105, 2013) were perceived as being more arousing than translations of the inanimate words, suggesting that animacy might have been confounded with arousal in previous studies. In Experiment 2, new word lists were created in which the animate and inanimate words were matched on arousal (amongst several other dimensions), and participants were required to reproduce the animate and inanimate words in a free recall task. There was a tendency towards better memory for arousing items, but robust animacy effects were obtained even though animate and inanimate words were matched on arousal. Thus, while arousal may contribute to the animacy effect when it is not carefully controlled for, it cannot explain the memory advantage of animate items.


Memory Animacy effect Emotional arousal 

Supplementary material

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ESM 1 (DOCX 505 kb)


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martin J. Meinhardt
    • 1
    Email author
  • Raoul Bell
    • 1
  • Axel Buchner
    • 1
  • Jan P. Röer
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Experimental PsychologyHeinrich Heine University DüsseldorfDüsseldorfGermany
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyWitten/Herdecke UniversityWittenGermany

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