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On the susceptibility of adaptive memory to false memory illusions

Howe, M. L. & Derbish, M. H. (2010). On the susceptibility of adaptive memory to false memory illusions. Cognition, 115(2), pp. 252-267. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2009.12.016


Previous research has shown that survival-related processing of word lists enhances retention for that material. However, the claim that survival-related memories are more accurate has only been examined when true recall and recognition of neutral material has been measured. In the current experiments, we examined the adaptive memory superiority effect for different types of processing and material, measuring accuracy more directly by comparing true and false recollection rates. Survival-related information and processing was examined using word lists containing backward associates of neutral, negative, and survival-related critical lures and type of processing (pleasantness, moving, survival) was varied using an incidental memory paradigm. Across four experiments, results showed that survival-related words were more susceptible than negative and neutral words to the false memory illusion and that processing information in terms of its relevance to survival independently increased this susceptibility to the false memory illusion. Overall, although survival-related processing and survival-related information resulted in poorer, not more accurate, memory, such inaccuracies may have adaptive significance. These findings are discussed in the context of false memory research and recent theories concerning the importance of survival processing and the nature of adaptive memory.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Cognition. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Cognition Volume 115, Issue 2, May 2010, Pages 252–267,
Publisher Keywords: False memory, Associative memory, Encoding processes, Adaptive memory, Survival memory
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
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