Departmental Colloquium: Raoul Bell (University of Dusseldorf) - Remembering cheaters: The importance of memory for social cooperation
Evolutionary psychology postulates that cognitive mechanisms have emerged as solutions to specific adaptive problems during the evolution of the human mind and brain. Cooperation in social groups has been such an important adaptive problem for humans. Reciprocal cooperation requires the ability to detect, remember, and recognize cheaters to know when to refuse cooperation, and when to punish cheating. How does the human brain solve this problem? A popular hypothesis in evolutionary psychology is that evolutionary selection has favored human brains equipped with a cheater recognition module that enables the individual to learn particularly well from previous negative experiences with cheaters. Consistent with this assumption, source memory for faces associated with cheating has been found to be superior to source memory for faces associated with trustworthy or irrelevant behaviors. However, this memory advantage is not special for cheating because it can also be observed for faces associated with other types of threatening behavior. Furthermore, source memory is not always enhanced for negatively arousing information, but is instead better for information that stands out because it violates expectations. This memory advantage for expectancy-incongruent information is complemented by strong expectancy-congruent guessing biases. Based on these and other findings, it will be discussed whether human memory should better be conceived of as adaptive in the general sense that the human mind makes efficient use of memory resources.