Memory Evolution: Discovery of Why and How We Remember.

Sep 29, 08 Memory Evolution: Discovery of Why and How We Remember.

Memory Evolution: Discovery of Why and How We Remember.
by Rocz-de la Luz, N. C.

A review of:
Nairne, J.S., & Pandeirada, J.N.S. (2008). Adaptive memory: Remembering with a stone-age brain. Current Directions in Psychological Science, (17) 4, 239-243.

We are all familiar with the adage: survival is the strongest instinct. Now, researchers are putting it to the test. They are discovering how memory has evolved and what survival’s impact actually is on memory. A recent study by James Nairne and Josefa Pandeirada at Purdue University suggests that memory evolved in order to ensure survival-fitness of the human race. That is, reproduction is successful in part due to human memory facilitating our species’ survival. Specifically, survival related objects are more likely to be remembered than random objects. Consider a modern day example: relocating to a new neighborhood, we remember quickly where the grocery store is, but will be surprised to learn that something that we do not need on a regular basis – a flower shop (or party-supply shop) is located in the same strip center.

Memory has undergone scientific study for some time and scientists know the best techniques for memory recall, yet there is insufficient research on why we remember what we remember. We are familiar with Charles Darwin’s survival of the fittest; this new study expounds on elements from his work. It is presumed that our brains differentiate and assign a storage capacity on essential (survival) events or objects and nonessential objects. Indeed, our brains would not be very efficient at recall if all items were assigned the same importance.

The current study out of Purdue University performed two separate experiments. In the first experiment participants imagined being in three different environments. In each environment, they were shown randomly selected words and decided for themselves which words, based on perceived relevance, would help them to survive. The participants imagined that they are stranded in a foreign land, with no protection from predators, and need to find food, shelter, and water. Word examples were “stone, meadow, chair”. The other two environments involved: imagining moving to a foreign land, and rating the pleasantness of words in a word list. Participants were given a surprise free-recall test to determine their retention from the three environments. Results showed the survival condition had superior recall compared to the moving and pleasantness conditions.

The other experiment compared how survival-processing memory measured up to to memory strategies known to produce long-term retention. For example, the participants were asked to visualize words, or to unscramble words; both techniques are proven to facilitate memory recall. Yet, results demonstrated survival scenarios produced the best memory recall of all. All of this lends credit to this new perspective in how and why we remember. We most easily remember information directly relevant to our survival; for example, throughout time, we most likely remembered where a food source was located or where a potential mate frequented. It seems Charles Darwin was onto something.

To cite this post please use this reference:
Rocz-de la Luz, N. C. (2008) Memory Evolution: Discovery of Why and How We Remember. Psychology Alert (1).