Survival processing in times of stress

T. Smeets, H. Otgaar, L. Raymaekers, M. J. V. Peters, H. Merckelbach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


Recent studies have found that processing information according to an evolutionary relevant (i.e., survival) scenario improves its subsequent memorability, potentially as a result of fitness advantages gained in the ancestral past. So far, research has not revealed much about any proximate mechanisms that might underlie this so-called survival processing advantage in memory. Intriguingly, research has shown that the memorability of stressful situations is enhanced via the release of stress hormones acting on brain regions involved in memory. Since survival situations habitually involve some degree of stress, in the present study, we investigated whether stress serves as a proximate mechanism to promote survival processing. Participants rated words for their relevance to either a survival or a neutral (moving) scenario after they had been exposed to a psychosocial stressor or a no-stress control condition. Surprise retention tests immediately following the rating task revealed that survival processing and acute stress independently boosted memory performance. These results therefore suggest that stress does not serve as a proximate mechanism of the survival processing advantage in memory.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-118
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin & Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


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