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Cognition. 2008 May;107(2):775-83. Epub 2007 Nov 14.

Memory for "mean" over "nice": the influence of threat on children's face memory.

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  • 1Harvard University, William James Hall, 33 Kirkland Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.


Adults remember faces of threatening over non-threatening individuals. This memory advantage could be indicative of a system rooted deeply in cognitive evolution to track and remember individuals who have been harmful in the past and therefore might be harmful again. Conversely, adults may have learned through experience that it pays to be vigilant. In the present research, we investigated whether attention to threatening individuals is privileged in young children's face memory. In Experiment 1, preschool-age children showed a face recognition memory advantage for individuals who were said to have committed harmful rather than helpful actions. In a further experiment, children did not selectively remember individuals who were described as the recipients of these actions, suggesting that the memory enhancement was produced by threat rather than negative valence. Together, these findings provide evidence for an early-developing system for remembering threatening individuals, consistent with an evolutionary account of its origins.

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