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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The power and fragility of ontogenetically-based and phylogenetically-based threats and pleasures Baker, Alysha Taylor


Memory has evolved as an adaptive process in the lives of humans. While some have argued that memory serves an adaptive function resulting in enhanced memory for survival-relevant information, others have suggested in detection and attention domains that threat-relevance (regardless of developmental origin) and experience/learning are crucial – findings that may extend to memory accuracy. It also has been suggested that emotional valence plays a crucial role in memory accuracy such that negatively-valenced stimuli may be better remembered than other stimuli. This thesis examined memory accuracy (Experiment 1) and memory fallibility (Experiment 2) for phylogenetically-based and ontogenetically-based threats and pleasures. Specifically, I investigated whether phylogenetically-based fearful stimuli (e.g., a snake) are better remembered but more susceptible to misinformation than ontogenetically-based stimuli (e.g., a handgun) and whether phylogenetically-based pleasures (e.g., salmon) are better remembered but more susceptible to misinformation than ontogenetically-based pleasures (e.g., money). In Experiment 1, participants (N = 50) received a memory test after viewing images depicting a phylogenetically-based threat, ontogenetically-based threat, phylogenetically-based pleasure, ontogenetically-based pleasure, and a neutral object. As predicted, memory accuracy for threats was significantly higher than memory for pleasures. However, contrary to my predictions, ontogenetically-based threats were recalled with the greatest accuracy. In Experiment 2, the same procedure was followed except misleading information was presented. The main finding relating to memory for threats versus pleasures was replicated. However, memories for pleasures were significantly more susceptible to misinformation than for threats. The results of this thesis, being the first simultaneous examination of phylogenetically-based and ontogenetically-based threats and pleasures in a memory accuracy and misinformation context, have theoretical importance and can contribute to resolving current debates in the field regarding emotion and memory.

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