The mnemonic advantage of processing fitness-relevant information

Abstract

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.

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Correspondence to Sean H. K. Kang.

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Kang, S.H.K., McDermott, K.B. & Cohen, S.M. The mnemonic advantage of processing fitness-relevant information. Memory & Cognition 36, 1151–1156 (2008). https://doi.org/10.3758/MC.36.6.1151

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Keywords

  • Rating Task
  • Survival Scenario
  • Pleasantness Condition
  • Mnemonic Benefit
  • Mnemonic Advantage