General understanding of evolution people have is that it
refers to the survival of the fittest. But evolution also includes adaptation. Adaptation
refers to an individual’s ability
to adjust to changes and new experiences, and to accept new information. Humans
have been adapting their way to survival for a long time now. So, it won’t be unreasonable
to suggest that memory may have some adaptive value to it. Evolutionary
Psychologists say that adaptive memory demonstrates the memory is
enhanced when information is processed because of its relevance to survival
(Nairne, Thompson, & Pandeirada, 2007). Simply put, humans are
“tuned” to remember that is processed in terms of its fitness value.
Here the term ‘fitness’ refers to the survival and reproductive aspect of
evolution. Not all events are important
from a fitness perspective. It is more important to remember food locations,
predators, etc than other information. So, it is not surprising to think of
memory as consisting of adaptive value.
It has also been suggested that sex differences in spatial
abilities, including memory for object locations, may have an evolutionary
basis (Sherry, Jacobs, & Gaulin, 1992; Silverman & Eals, 1992). Silverman
and Eals (1992) suggested that the division of labor typically found in
hunter-gatherer societies—men hunt and women gather—may have led to unique
foraging-related cognitive specializations of the sexes.
So, it was proposed that “survival-based” memory
will lead to better retention after traditional “deep” processing
tasks such as understanding the meaning, etc (Craik and Tulving).
To understand this phenomenon of adaptive memory researchers
Nairne et al, conducted an experiment. To mimic the division of labor the
participants were randomly assigned to one of the three conditions- two of survival scenarios of Hunter, Gatherer, and a
controlled scenario of scavenger hunt. They were then asked to rate a list of
words (each word exposed for 5 seconds) as to how relevant or irrelevant the
words are according to their condition on 5 point rating scale where 1 stood for
totally irrelevant and 5 stood for extremely relevant. After which they were presented with a small
distracter task of digital recall for 2 minutes. Insturction for a surprise
recall test were then given. The recall phase proceeded for 10 minutes during
which the participants were asked to draw a line between the words after the
end of each minute. A ‘beep’ was signaled at the end of each minute as a cue to
draw the line. The recall task reveled superior memory for words when they were
rated in the Hunter, Gatherer scenario as compared to controlled scenario. But,
no significant differences were found based on gender of the participants.