Previous research has shown that rating words for their relevance to a survival scenario leads to better retention of the words than rating them for self-reference. Past studies have, however, relied exclusively on an autobiographical self-reference task in which participants rate how easily a common noun brings to mind a personal experience. We report five experiments comparing survival processing to a descriptive self-reference task in which participants rated how well trait words described them. Rating trait adjectives for survival value led to higher levels of recall and recognition than rating them for their relevance to a moving home scenario. Rating the adjectives for self-reference, however, led to higher levels of recall (Experiments 1 and 3) and recollection (Experiment 2) than survival rating. Experiment 4 replaced trait adjectives with trait nouns and found that self-reference led to greater recognition accuracy than survival processing. Experiment 5 used trait nouns followed by tests of free recall and found a memory advantage following self-reference that was not influenced by the imageability of the stimuli. The findings are discussed in terms of theories of the survival processing and self-reference effects and the relationship between them.
Dewhurst, S. A., Anderson, R. J., Grace, L., & Boland, J. (2017). Survival processing versus self-reference : a memory advantage following descriptive self-referential encoding. Journal of Memory and Language, 94, 291-304. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jml.2017.01.003