Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Science



First Advisor

Daniel Burns




survival. Imagery, death, mechanism, pleasantness


In 2007, J.S Nairne, S.R Thompson and J. N. S. Pandeirada investigated the idea that memory systems might have evolved in order to help us remember fitness-relevant information, especially relevant to our own survival. They showed that retention of words rated for their relevance to survival is superior to any other deep processing condition like pleasantness, imagery, self-referential processing, and so on. Since then, many experiments have investigated this “survival processing” effect. Recently, a retention benefit for subjects being primed about thinking of their own death has also been found (Hart & Burns, 2011). I present an experiment that looks at the effect of a combination of survival processing and death priming to determine if they are both caused by the same mechanism or if they are two completely different entities acting to benefit retention. The experiment consisted of subjects rating a list of words for their relevance to survival (or pleasantness) after answering a questionnaire about death or dental pain. I was able to recreate the survival processing effect and the mortality salience effect separately. Results also suggest that the mortality salience effect is due to an increase in item-specific processing. Lastly, when the two processes were combined, no additional retention beyond that produced by survival processing alone was found, suggesting that the mortality salience effect might be a component of the survival processing effect.