Investigations of a reproductive processing advantage in memory


Previous work has shown that processing words for their survival value improves memory. If this survival processing effect reflects an evolutionary adaptation in memory, processing words for their reproductive value should also improve memory. Across three experiments, participants rated words for their relevance in reproductive scenarios. In Experiment 1, participants rated adjectives (traits) for their relevance in finding a mate, evaluating a coworker, or in terms of their pleasantness. Mate processing produced better memory than pleasantness ratings, but not coworker processing. In Experiment 2, participants rated traits for their relevance in detecting sexual or emotional infidelity. Neither processing condition produced better memory compared to pleasantness ratings, but there were several unpredicted interactions involving participant sex and jealousy responses. In Experiment 3, participants rated gifts for their appropriateness in a romantic date or a housewarming party, or in terms of their pleasantness. Date processing and housewarming processing both improved recall compared to pleasantness rating, but date processing and housewarming processing did not produce differences compared to each other. Overall, the current study demonstrates very little evidence of a reproductive processing effect, and nothing approaching the magnitude of previous work on the survival processing effect.

Memory & Cognition, 45(6), 983–1001