Paper Type

Master's Thesis


College of Arts and Sciences

Degree Name

Master of Arts in General Psychology (MAGP)



NACO controlled Corporate Body

University of North Florida. Department of Psychology

First Advisor

Dr. Michael Toglia

Second Advisor

Dr. Christopher Leone

Department Chair

Dr. Michael Toglia

College Dean

Dr. Barbara A. Hetrick


Recently, cognitive psychologists have focused their research on the survival aspects of human memory, showing advantages for remembering information encoded for adaptive qualities. When participants rated words related to survival relevance (stranded in grasslands), Nairne et al. (2007) and others found survival processing’s retention superior to many semantic encoding techniques, however, we questioned the global application of survival processing. In the present adaptive memory experiment we used the thematic word list paradigm pioneered by Deese, Rodeiger and McDermott, allowing us to measure false recall of critical items from sets of word lists. To investigate recall differences based on the material type encoded, we separated recalled material into two categories: survival and non-survival. Because arousal can influence memory performance, we extended research on adaptive memory to include social arousal induced by videotaping participants during study and recall tasks. Videotaping subjects has been shown to induce arousal levels similar to those when being observed, and may parallel arousal experienced in survival scenarios. Overall, recall was lower for survival processing. Survival-relevant information was more accurately remembered, and was not hindered by camera presence, unlike non-survival information. Additionally, false memories were higher under videotaped conditions. While our results did not support Nairne and colleagues, our findings may support the development of evolved brain mechanisms. The current findings are discussed with an emphasis on contemporary high arousal situations that may influence the activation of adaptive memories. We join a growing set of literature that questions the overall benefits of survival processing.