A Test of the Survival Processing Advantage in Implicit and Explicit Memory Tests

By McBride, Dawn M.; Thomas, Brandon J. et al. | Memory & Cognition, August 2013 | Go to article overview

A Test of the Survival Processing Advantage in Implicit and Explicit Memory Tests


McBride, Dawn M., Thomas, Brandon J., Zimmerman, Corinne, Memory & Cognition


Published online: 2 March 2013

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract The present study was designed to investigate the survival processing effect (Nairne, Thompson, & Pandeirada, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 33, 263-273, 2007) in cued implicit and explicit memory tests. The survival effect has been well established in explicit free recall and recognition tests, but has not been evident in implicit memory tests or in cued explicit tests. In Experiment 1 of the present study, we tested implicit and explicit memory for words studied in survival, moving, or pleasantness contexts in stem completion tests. In Experiment 2, we further tested these effects in implicit and explicit category production tests. Across the two experiments, with four separate memory tasks that included a total of 525 subjects, no survival processing advantage was found, replicating the results from implicit tests reported by Tse and Altarriba (Memory & Cognition, 38, 1110-1121,2010). Thus, although the survival effect appears to be quite robust in free recall and recognition tests, it has not been replicated in cued implicit and explicit memory tests. The similar results found for the implicit and explicit tests in the present study do not support encoding elaboration explanations of the survival processing effect.

Keywords Implicit memory · Evolutionary psychology

In the past several years, numerous studies have reported a memory advantage for items processed for relevance in an evolutionary survival scenario, as compared with the many classic encoding tasks that typically enhance memory (e.g., pleasantness rating, self-referential processing, or imagery). The motivation for such studies has been to examine an adaptive approach to memory functioning. Nairne, Thompson and Pandeirada (2007) suggested that memory processes developed to aid in remembering fitness-relevant information. They argued that memory processes likely evolved to help us solve basic problems such as hunting and gathering food, finding water and shelter, and evading and protecting ourselves from predators. They hypothesized that processing information for its relevance to survival in an ancestral grasslands scenario should provide a memory advantage as compared with other types of processing, because relevance to survival is consistent with the pro- posed function of memory.

In four experiments, Nairne et al. (2007) compared sur- vival processing with numerous other encoding tasks, in- cluding rating relevance to a moving scenario that did not involve survival, a pleasantness-rating task, and a self- reference rating task. In all of their experiments, a memory advantage was found for the survival processing task as compared to the other encoding tasks in free recall and recognition memory tests. Nairne et al. (2007) concluded from these results that it is possible to test a priori hypotheses regarding an evolutionary perspective for memory functioning.

In the years since Nairne et al.'s (2007) original study testing the survival processing advantage, several studies have further confirmed their results with the same, and some additional, comparison encoding tasks (e.g., a bank robbery scenario, Kang, McDermott, & Cohen, 2008; professor and elderly stereotype scenarios, Otgaar et al., 2011; item- specific or relational processing, Burns, Burns, & Hwang, 2011; and a city survival scenario, Weinstein, Bugg, & Roediger, 2008). Studies have also generalized the survival processing advantage to picture stimuli (Otgaar, Smeets, & van Bergen, 2010) and to location memory (Nairne, VanArsdall, Pandeirada, & Blunt, 2012). Thus, the survival processing advantage appears to be robust and generalizes to different types of stimuli and some other types of memory tasks.

Despite the strength of the survival processing effect shown in many studies, possible boundary conditions on the effect have also been reported. …

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