Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Valence Modulates Source Memory for Faces

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Valence Modulates Source Memory for Faces

Article excerpt

Previous studies in which the effects of emotional valence on old-new discrimination and source memory have been examined have yielded highly inconsistent results. Here, we present two experiments showing that old-new face discrimination was not affected by whether a face was associated with disgusting, pleasant, or neutral behavior. In contrast, source memory for faces associated with disgusting behavior (i.e., memory for the disgusting context in which the face was encountered) was consistently better than source memory for other types of faces. This data pattern replicates the findings of studies in which descriptions of cheating, neutral, and trustworthy behavior were used, which findings were previously ascribed to a highly specific cheater detection module. The present results suggest that the enhanced source memory for faces of cheaters is due to a more general source memory advantage for faces associated with negative or threatening contexts that may be instrumental in avoiding the negative consequences of encounters with persons associated with negative or threatening behaviors.

The ability to remember is the product of evolution. To remember the past is adaptive, because it can help us to gain control over the present and the future (Nairne & Pandeirada, 2008a, 2008b; Nairne, Pandeirada, & Thompson, 2008; Nairne, Thompson, & Pandeirada, 2007). However, how the cognitive architecture is designed to achieve specific adaptive ends is subject to debate. A popular assumption in evolutionary psychology is that the human mind is composed of highly specialized modules that have evolved to solve the problems of survival and reproduction faced by our ancestors during the course of evolution. A prominent example is the cheater detection module postulated by social contract theory (Cosmides, 1989; Cosmides & Tooby, 1992, 2005). According to this theory, cheater detection is an evolutionary necessity, because social cooperation cannot emerge unless cooperators have evolved a look-for-cheaters mechanism that enables them to reliably detect cheaters and, thus, avoid exploitation. The Wason (1968) selection task was repeatedly used to seek evidence in support of social contract theory (Cosmides, 1989; Cosmides & Tooby, 1992, 2005). A continuing controversy is whether these findings can be best ascribed to a cheater detection module or to more domain-general processing mechanisms (e.g., Carlisle & Shafir, 2005; Fiddick & Rutherford, 2006).

A strategy to avoid being consistently exploited by cheaters consists of refusing to cooperate with individuals who have previously cheated (reciprocal altruism; Axelrod & Hamilton, 1981; Trivers, 1971). This requires good memory for cheaters, in addition to cheater detection. More specifically, it has been suggested that the ability to recognize faces of cheaters may be important in this respect. Seemingly consistent with these assumptions, Mealey, Daood, and Krage (1996) reported that for faces associated with low-status professions, old-new discrimination was better for faces associated with descriptions of cheating than for faces associated with trustworthy behavior. Oddly, this result was not found for faces associated with high-status professions. More recent studies have been unable to replicate the Mealey et al. finding (Barclay & Lalumière, 2006; Mehl & Buchner, 2008). This is not unexpected from a functional perspective on human memory, however, because just perceiving a face as familiar, without concurrent memory for the context in which a face was encountered, cannot be of help in avoiding cheaters and, thus, cannot provide an evolutionary benefit. Even worse, increased familiarity of faces of cheaters without context information might increase the risk of being exploited, because of the preference often exhibited for familiar stimuli (Bornstein, 1989; Zajonc, 1968). In contrast, source memory for faces of cheaters- that is, memory for the cheating context in which a face was encountered-can be instrumental in avoiding cheaters and, thus, should be beneficial to socially cooperating individuals. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.