The mnemonic advantage of processing fitness-relevant information

Sean H.K. Kang, Kathleen B. McDermott, Sophie M. Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

116 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1151-1156
Number of pages6
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 2008


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