Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Animates Are Better Remembered Than Inanimates: Further Evidence from Word and Picture Stimuli

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Animates Are Better Remembered Than Inanimates: Further Evidence from Word and Picture Stimuli

Article excerpt

Published online: 27 September 2013

# Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract In three experiments, we showed that animate entities are remembered better than inanimate entities. Experiment 1 revealed better recall for words denoting animate than inanimate items. Experiment 2 replicated this finding with the use of pictures. In Experiment 3, we found better recognition for animate than for inanimate words. Importantly, we also found a higher recall rate of "remember" than of "know" responses for animates, whereas the recall rates were similar for the two types of responses for inanimate items. This finding suggests that animacy enhances not only the quantity but also the quality of memory traces, through the recall of contextual details of previous experiences (i.e., episodic memory). Finally, in Experiment 4, we tested whether the animacy effect was due to animate items being richer in terms of sensory features than inanimate items. The findings provide further evidence for the functionalist view of memory championed by Nairne and coworkers (Nairne, 2010; Nairne & Pandeirada, Cognitive Psychology, 61 :1-22, 2010a, 2010b).

Keywords Functionalist viewofmemory . Animate . Inanimate . Survival processing . Long-termmemory

Several lines of evidence suggest that animate entities have a privileged processing status over inanimate objects-in other words, that animates have priority over inanimates. The animate- inanimate distinction parallels the distinction between "living" and "nonliving" things that has been postulated to account for selective deficits in patients (for a review, see Capitani, Laiacona, Mahon, & Caramazza, 2003). Animates belong to the general category of living things. Gelman and Spelke (1981) identified the following fundamental differences between animate and inanimate objects: (1) Animates can act, whereas inanimates move only when something/ someone initiates the action; (2) animates grow and reproduce; (3) animates can know, perceive, emote, learn, and think; and (4) animates are made of biological structures that maintain life and allow reproduction.

In several domains of cognitive science, a growing body of evidence supports the view that animates are given processing priority over inanimates. Animate stimuli are thought to attract more attention than inanimates because it was important for the survival of our human ancestors to identify potentially dangerous entities quickly. To illustrate this, it has been shown that animate stimuli (e.g., animals, human faces) attract more attention than inanimate stimuli, not only those that arouse fear (Öhman, Flykt, & Esteves, 2001; Öhman, Lundqvist, & Esteves, 2001; but see Brosch & Sharma, 2005) but also neutral stimuli (Lipp, Derakshan, Waters, & Logies, 2004). It has been shown that individuals detect changes to humans and animals more quickly and accurately than changes to inanimate objects (New, Cosmides, & Tooby, 2007; see also Kirchner & Thorpe, 2006, for evidence of faster ocular saccades in response to animals than to other objects). Recently, Yang, Wang, Yan, Zhu, Chen, and Wang (2012) tracked participants' eye movements while they viewed pictures with animals and inanimate images as focal objects. These pictures had either negative or neutral emotional valence, and either human body parts or nonhuman parts were near the focal objects (i.e., context). The picture's valence, arousal, position, size, and most of the low-level visual features were controlled for across categories. Their findings showed that nonhuman animals were more likely to be attended to (and to be attended to for longer) than inanimate objects. In a visual search paradigm, Abrams and Christ (2003) showed that onset of motion (i.e., an object that has just started to move), but not motion per se, was important to capture attention. According to those authors, motion onset is indicative of animacy. They postulated that the reason why motion onset captures attention is that it may signal a biologically significant event, because objects that undergo motion onset must have their own internal energy source. …

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