Adaptive memory: Survival processing increases both true and false memory in adults and children

H.P. Otgaar*, T. Smeets

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Research has shown that processing information in a survival context can enhance the information's memorability. The current study examined whether survival processing can also decrease the susceptibility to false memories and whether the survival advantage can be found in children. In Experiment 1, adults rated semantically related words in a survival, moving, or pleasantness scenario. Even though the survival advantage was demonstrated for true recall, there also was an unexpected increase in false memories in the survival condition. Similarly, younger and older children in Experiment 2 displayed superior true recall but also higher rates of false memories in a survival condition. Experiment 3 showed that in adults false memories were also more likely to occur in the survival condition when categorized lists instead of Deese-Roediger-McDermott (DRM)-like word lists were used. In all three experiments, no survival recall advantage was found when net accuracy scores that take the total output into account were used. These findings question whether survival processing is an adaptive memory strategy per se, as such processing not only enriches true recall but simultaneously amplifies the vulnerability to false memories.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1010-1016
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology-Learning Memory and Cognition
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2010


  • DRM
  • adaptive memory
  • development
  • false memories


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