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Adaptive Memory and Survival Subject Correlation Report

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Updated: Aug 31st, 2022


This study utilizes a within-subjects design with two adaptive scenarios related to the process of survival and moving and examines the effect of these scenarios on the peculiarities of lexis recalling. Previous research outlines the existence of a correlation between survival processing and recalling due to the effects of adaptive memory. Participants of the study were shown two wordlists of 10 words each, and their task was to define the extent to which given words were relevant in terms of either survival or moving scenario. After this task, they were asked to recall as many words from the lists as they could. The results of the study have revealed that the participants found it slightly easier to recall the words related to the notion of survival. Still, the outlined hypothesis on the direct correlation between the processes was not justified due to the insignificant difference between the scenario outcomes. The study was primarily limited to the poor sample validity; further study implications should encompass diverse demographic groups.


Human memory has always been one of the most sophisticated cognitive aspects in terms of research and the identification of examination patterns. While memory is able to develop from the moment of birth, it is rather questionable what variables play the most significant part in terms of the extent to which memory adapts to the human’s surroundings. Researchers define the term “adaptive memory” as the idea that memory as a domain reflects the process of evolution and selections made while human beings evolved (Pandeirada et al., 2017). Hence, based on the following definition, some researchers, such as Nairne et al. (2007), decided to conduct a series of experimental studies in order to identify which scenarios enable one’s memory retention.

In terms of the research, the scholars have conducted four between and within-subjects experiments to compare and contrast people’s perception of survival-related worlds when juxtaposed with other control subjects. Thus, during the first experiment, 150 Purdue students participated in a study where they had to rate a certain list of words according to their significance for survival, moving, and feeling of pleasantness (Nairne et al., 2017). The results have demonstrated that participants dealing with survival vocabulary were more likely to memorize the items.

To prove the point, the next experiment contained the study of within-subjects of moving and survival, where sample participants were to evaluate the significance of both moving and survival-related vocabulary (Nairne et al., 2007). Similarly, the results revealed that memorization was more efficient when dealing with survival lexis. The third study, in its turn, was focused on the process of recognition instead of recalling, and the results favored the recognition of survival-related subjects over other elements (Nairne et., 2007). Finally, the fourth experiment was aimed at comparing subjects of survival and self-reference as some of the most significant for human life, and the outcome of the study revealed little difference in the variables’ mean (Nairne et al., 2007). Hence, the results of the aforementioned study demonstrate that adaptive memory as a process is inevitably correlated with the person’s evolution and genetic predisposition for survival. However, the results of the study are still not exhaustive and do not claim a distinct correlation between one’s social adaptation and predisposition for information processing.

This paper replicated the second experiment of Nairne et al. (2007) with modified sample size and different demographics in terms of gender and age. In the context of the study, the report’s data was used to develop materials and design of the study in order to identify further implications of the correlation between adaptive memory development and human subconscious predisposition for survival. Considering the information obtained from previous studies, I assume that the level of memorizing the survival conditions-related lexis will be more successful among the sample.



The experiment included a sample of 158 undergraduates (mean age 20, age-range – 18-34). All the participants were enrolled in the course of cognitive psychology; the mean year of study was second-year. The sample consisted of 110 females, 42 males, and one other, whereas five students refused to provide any comments on their demographic status. The participants were motivated with the help of educational benefits after completing the experiment.

Materials and Design

The materials for this within-subjects study included sets of 20 unrelated words. Accordingly, half of them were supposed to be evaluated in the survival paradigm, and the other half were supposed to be associated with the notion of moving. For example, the survival group consisted of such words as “RULER,” “MOUNTAIN,” “EMERALD,” and “BEAR.” Thus, the vast majority of these words had quite a weak correlation with the semantic aspect of survival. The same scenario was utilized in order to prepare the word sets for the moving paradigm, as the list included such notions as “TRUCK,” “JUICE,” “CAR,” and “SHOES.” Hence, it may be identified that only half of those words were connected to the moving process.

The words were further divided into Blocks A (moving) and B (survival), and each of the blocks was initially presented with a case scenario related to the chosen process. The scenarios were taken from the study conducted by Nairne et al. (2007). The primary task of the participants was to evaluate the extent to which these words were relevant to the case scenario described at the beginning on a scale from 1 to 5 (1 completely irrelevant; 5=totally relevant). The independent variable of the study was the rating task when imagining scenarios related either to survival or to move. The dependent variable was the number of words recalled correctly by the participants.


The experiment took place during one of the lectures on cognitive psychology. In the beginning, the participants were instructed on the process of completing the questionnaire via Top Hat. The emphasis was made on the fact that students were by no means allowed to modify the workflow of the experiment and the order of blocks completed. Then, the participants were asked to complete Blocks A and B (Stimuli and Proceeding), and only on the condition that those parts were completed were students allowed to move to the third part of the experiment. In terms of the third part, the participants were asked to recall as many words as they could remember from Block A and Block B and write them down on separate pages. The participants were not aware of the task in advance. After recalling the words, participants were asked to fill in the information on demographics and outline their hypothesis for the study considering the explanation provided.


At the beginning of the procedure, the participants were to rank the lexemes in terms of their semantic connection to the outlined scenario. According to the outcome, a part of words in the survival group was ranked as associated with the scenario (M= 2.812, SD=.56524). The situation appeared to be similar in the moving group (M= 2.7899, SD=.56851). Considering the following juxtaposition, it was safe to assume that both word sets had similar chances of being partly recalled by the participants. Thus, as far as the process of recalling was concerned, the paired t-test was conducted. The results revealed that the recalling means were slightly higher in the case with Block B related to the survival scenario (M=6.7161, SD=1.68937) when compared to the moving data (M= 6.1419, SD= 1.66491). The output of the paired samples test stated t(155) = -4.729, p=0.01. The overall hypothesis claimed a slight correlation between the survival scenario and recalling ability among people.


The results of the study conducted show that the overall ability to recall words without preparation was relatively higher in the group of words associated with survival than in the moving scenario. Still, the difference between the mean results of the recall was not efficient enough to state that there was indeed a significant correlation between the survival scenario and one’s development of adaptive memory. Indeed, the outcomes of the study comply with the basic outcomes of the study conducted by Nairne et al. (2007). According to the latter, whereas there is an overall tendency to the better means of recalling information related to survival, the test statistic does not show exhaustive evidence.

What is meant by that is the fact that the slightest change in the sample demographic might eventually modify the outcome of the experiment significantly. Moreover, the study presented included the comparison between survival and moving because both those semantic aspects were appropriate for schema-based processing (Nairne et al., 2007). Thus, it would be safe to assume that the ability to recall words was highly related to the notion of mnemonic memory and processing scenarios through the prism of generalized knowledge. However, the issue is not necessarily correlated with adaptive memory development and human cognitive evolution.

The limitations of the study discussed are primarily related to the experiment sample, as it mostly consisted of second-year female students. As a result, it is difficult to actually justify the hypothesis with the sample limited to the average student age. Moreover, considering the fact that the participants were taken from the course of cognitive psychology, it would be possible to assume that the overall cognitive abilities of the participants were not drastically different. Hence, in order to justify the hypothesis in the future, it is necessary to expand the experiment beyond undergraduates.


Nairne, J. S., Thompson, S. R., & Pandeirada, J. N. (2007). Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 33(2), 263.

Pandeirada, J. N., Fernandes, N. L., Vasconcelos, M., & Nairne, J. S. (2017). Evolutionary Psychology, 15(4).

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