Paper Type

Master's Thesis


College of Arts and Sciences

Degree Name

Master of Arts in General Psychology (MAGP)



First Advisor

Dr. Juliana Leding

Second Advisor

Dr. Michael Toglia

Department Chair

Dr. Michael Toglia

College Dean

Dr. Barbara A. Hetrick


Adaptive memory is "the idea that [our] memory systems might have evolved to help us remember fitness-relevant information—specifically, information relevant to survival" (Nairne, Thompson, & Pandeirada, 2007, p. 263). Nairne et al. found that processing words in terms of survival relevance yielded the best memory retention compared to other deep processing conditions. The purpose of the present research was to investigate whether factors including a feeling of isolation or novelty could explain the adaptive memory advantage observed in previous adaptive memory research. In two incidental learning experiments, participants rated word relevance in one of four conditions: grasslands survival, space mission, alien abduction, or moving. In Experiment 1, participants rated 32 unrelated words. In Experiment 2, participants rated 60 words from six DRM lists. In Experiment 1 there was one incidental free recall test whereas in Experiment 2 three successive free recall tests were employed. As hypothesized, results from Experiment 1 indicated that the grasslands survival scenario, space mission, and alien conditions had similar rates in recall. The typical adaptive memory effect was also found in which participants in the grasslands survival scenario condition had significantly higher recall compared to participants who received the moving scenario condition. Experiment 2 found that all of the conditions did not significantly differ from each in terms of true or false recall. Across both experiments, the grasslands survival, space mission, and alien abduction scenarios were rated similarly in terms of isolation and novelty. These findings suggest that novelty and isolation can be contributing factors in the memory advantage observed with the grasslands survival scenario in previous adaptive memory studies.