Survival of the selfish: Contrasting self-referential and survival-based encoding

Sheila J. Cunningham* (Corresponding Author), Mirjam Brady-Van Den Bos, Lucy Gill, David J. Turk

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Processing information in the context of personal survival scenarios elicits a memory advantage, relative to other rich encoding conditions such as self-referencing. However, previous research is unable to distinguish between the influence of survival and self-reference because personal survival is a self-referent encoding context. To resolve this issue, participants in the current study processed items in the context of their own survival and a familiar other person's survival, as well as in a semantic context. Recognition memory for the items revealed that personal survival elicited a memory advantage relative to semantic encoding, whereas other-survival did not. These findings reinforce suggestions that the survival effect is closely tied with self-referential encoding, ensuring that fitness information of potential importance to self is successfully retained in memory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)237-244
Number of pages8
JournalConsciousness and Cognition
Issue number1
Early online date28 Jan 2013
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2013

Bibliographical note

DJT was supported by a Grant from the European Research Council (202893). We thank Stan Klein and an anonymous reviewer for their helpful comments.


  • Fitness value
  • Memory
  • Self
  • Self-reference effect
  • Survival


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