Memory for expectation-violating concepts: The effects of agents and cultural familiarity

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Previous research has shown that ideas which violate our expectations, such as schema-inconsistent concepts, enjoy privileged status in terms of memorability. In our study, memory for concepts that violate cultural (cultural schema-level) expectations (e.g., "illiterate teacher", "wooden bottle", or "thorny grass") versus domain-level (ontological) expectations (e.g., "speaking cat", "jumping maple", or "melting teacher") was examined. Concepts that violate cultural expectations, or counter-schematic, were remembered to a greater extent compared with concepts that violate ontological expectations and with intuitive concepts (e.g., "galloping pony", "drying orchid", or "convertible car"), in both immediate recall, and delayed recognition tests. Importantly, concepts related to agents showed a memory advantage over concepts not pertaining to agents, but this was true only for expectation-violating concepts. Our results imply that intuitive, everyday concepts are equally attractive and memorable regardless of the presence or absence of agents. However, concepts that violate our expectations (cultural-schema or domain-level) are more memorable when pertaining to agents (humans and animals) than to non-agents (plants or objects/artifacts). We conclude that due to their evolutionary salience, cultural ideas which combine expectancy violations and the involvement of an agent are especially memorable and thus have an enhanced probability of being successfully propagated. © 2014 Porubanova et al.

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  • Memory for Expectation-Violating Concepts

    Rights statement: © 2014 Porubanova et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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Original languageEnglish
Article numbere90684
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume9
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 8 Apr 2014

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