More Memory Bang for the Attentional Buck: Self-Protection Goals Enhance Encoding Efficiency for Potentially Threatening Males

D. Vaughn Becker*, Uriah S. Anderson, Steven L. Neuberg, Jon K. Maner, Jenessa R. Shapiro, Joshua M. Ackerman, Mark Schaller, Douglas T. Kenrick

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations

Abstract

When encountering individuals with a potential inclination to harm them, people face a dilemma: Staring at them provides useful information about their intentions but may also be perceived by them as intrusive and challenging-thereby increasing the likelihood of the very threat the people fear. One solution to this dilemma would be an enhanced ability to efficiently encode such individuals-to be able to remember them without spending any additional direct attention on them. In two experiments, the authors primed self-protective concerns in perceivers and assessed visual attention and recognition memory for a variety of faces. Consistent with hypotheses, self-protective participants (relative to control participants) exhibited enhanced encoding efficiency (i.e., greater memory not predicated on any enhancement of visual attention) for Black and Arab male faces- groups stereotyped as being potentially dangerous-but not for female or White male faces. Results suggest that encoding efficiency depends on the functional relevance of the social information people encounter.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)182-189
Number of pages8
JournalSocial Psychological and Personality Science
Volume1
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 2010

Keywords

  • encoding
  • evolutionary psychology
  • memory
  • threat
  • visual attention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology

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