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Memory. 2013;21(6):695-706. doi: 10.1080/09658211.2012.752506. Epub 2012 Dec 24.

Adaptive memory: the survival scenario enhances item-specific processing relative to a moving scenario.

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Department of Psychology, Union College, Schenectady, NY 12308, USA.


Nairne, Thompson, and Pandeirada (2007) found that retention of words rated for their relevance to survival is superior to that of words encoded under numerous other deep processing conditions. They suggested that our memory systems might have evolved to confer an advantage for survival-relevant information. Burns, Burns, and Hwang (2011) suggested a two-process explanation of the proximate mechanisms responsible for the survival advantage. Whereas most control tasks encourage only one type of processing, the survival task encourages both item-specific and relational processing. They found that when control tasks encouraged both types of processing, the survival processing advantage was eliminated. However, none of their control conditions included non-survival scenarios (e.g., moving, vacation, etc.), so it is not clear how this two-process explanation would explain the survival advantage when scenarios are used as control conditions. The present experiments replicated the finding that the survival scenario improves recall relative to a moving scenario in both a between-lists and within-list design and also provided evidence that this difference was accompanied by an item-specific processing difference, not a difference in relational processing. The implications of these results for several existing accounts of the survival processing effect are discussed.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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