[Proposal] Want to Improve your Memory? Use ANIMATES!

Félix, S. B.
Pandeirada, J. N. S.

(William James Center for Research, University of Aveiro, Portugal)

1. Theoretical-practical importance of this research

Human memory allows us to remember past events (i.e.,Retrospective Memory, [RM]), and also to prepare future events (i.e.,Prospective Memory, [PM]). Everyday, we create intentions to-be-performed in the future (e.g., take pills at lunch) which, if failed, can have threatening consequences. Thus, the question is: How to improve PM performance?

Recently, animacy was discovered to improve RM[1], being in the spotlight of memory researchers! Animacy is the characteristic that allows us to classify everything, ranging from “animates” (living beings; e.g.,DOG) to “inanimates” (non-living things/objects; e.g.,SPOON). People recall significantly better animates than inanimates, a phenomenon called the “animacy effect”. This effect has been studied only in RM, and mostly with young adults (YA), being unclear if it also occurs in older adults(OA,[2]) and in other memory types, namely PM. Furthermore, the animacy cross-cultural consistency remains unexplored and is of relevance to discuss the evolutionary roots of this effect. Due to the pandemic constraints for in-person data collection (particularly with OA), this research depends on online data collection. Thus, obtaining this financial support is crucial.

Aims of our Studies

To explore if the animacy effect occurs in OA (in RM and PM), having YA as control-groups. If animacy also fosters PM, one could use it to improve daily-memory-functioning. An initial (cross-cultural) animacy normative study will be conducted to respond to several goals.

2. Methods

We plan to run three studies to: (1)Collect Animacy normative data across languages; (2)Study the animacy effect in RM in OA; and (3)in PM, both in YA and OA. We will use conservative sample sizes, as little is known about the animacy effect in the conditions under study. The main procedures proposed have been approved by our University’s Ethics Committee. Amendments will be submitted to cover specific details not contemplated in the approved proposal.

For these studies, the required prescreeners are: Age (OA: >=65 years; YA: >=18, <=35); English as first language (except if otherwise mentioned); Approval rate >=90%.

Study 1

Following previous procedures[3], we will collect animacy ratings for 500 words, among YA from different languages (cf.Costs table). To ensure at least 20 ratings/word (cf.similar studies;[4]), we will need 200 participants/language, each one rating 100 words. We will compare the animacy mean ratings obtained in several languages, and explore their cross-cultural agreement. As animacy is thought to be a universal dimension[5], we expect no significant mean differences among languages, and a high level of agreement on the classification across cultures. However, these predictions are speculative as no studies have made such a comparison. These normative data will constitute an asset to researchers from other countries allowing them to select better stimuli for future studies. The data will be available in our OSF (doi:10.17605/OSF.IO/9TA3Y), which already contains Portuguese norming data for a smallish set of words. The procedure is more detailed in the study preregistration (AsPredicted#70556).

Study 2

This study will involve 148 participants (74 YA+74 OA, calculated through G*Power, using α=.05, 1-β=0.95, for a small-medium effect size, f=0.15). We will follow a typical procedure to explore the animacy effect in RM[1], and use stimuli normed in Study 1 and from a previous database[6]. We will conduct a 2 (Animacy: animate vs. inanimate words; within-subject) x 2 (Age: YA vs. OA; between-subjects) Mixed-design experiment. We expect to replicate the animacy effect in YA, with YA recalling more items than OA. An interaction might occur, as previous studies suggest that the animacy effect might not be as strong in OA[2]. See further details of the procedure in the preregistration (AsPredicted#70558).

Study 3a

Following procedures typical in PM studies[7-8], participants will see four (or six) squares, one at a time, each in a different color. Then, a word in a colored-font will be presented, having participants to decide if the color of the word matches the color of any of the just presented squares (Y/N response; ongoing task). However, for two predetermined words participants previously memorized (an animate and an inanimate; PM targets), they should press the SPACEBAR, instead of the Y/N keys (PM task). For this study, 59 OA (in the 4-squares condition) and 118 YA (59 in the 4-squares+59 in the 6-squares condition) will be needed to obtain a small-medium effect size (f=0.15), for α=.05 and power=95% (calculated through G*Power). We will analyze the PM performance when the PM target is an animate or an inanimate (within-subject variable) and depending on the age group and task difficulty (manipulated between-subjects). We expect better PM performances for animates (vs. inanimates), with YA (especially those in the 4-squares condition) outperforming OA. Again, an interaction might occur (see Study 2). See further details of the procedure in the preregistration (AsPredicted#70559).

Study 3b

We will use the same stimuli, procedure and data analysis as in Study 3a, except for the age groups (here only two groups are needed), and the ongoing task (instead of a color-matching task, participants will perform a visuo-spatial task). Here, seven white squares will be displayed on the screen. One at a time, six of them will turn black. Then, a word will be presented in one of the seven possible square-positions. The participants’ task is to decide if the word’s location matches the location where a black square was displayed (Y/N response; ongoing trials). However, when words previously memorized (an animate and an inanimate) are presented, participants shall press the SPACEBAR (PM trials). Better PM performances are expected for animate (vs. inanimate) targets, with YA outperforming OA; again, an interaction might occur. Following the criteria used in Study 2, we will need 148 participants. See further details of the procedure in its preregistration (AsPredicted#70561).

Potential Impact and Open Science

The proposed studies are highly publishable, given the authors’ track-record, this topic’s novelty in the memory literature, and its theoretical-practical relevance in multiple areas. Furthermore, our research team is highly committed to open science practices, making procedures, stimuli and data available through OSF.

3. Study costs



  1. Nairne JS, VanArsdall JE, Pandeirada JNS, Cogdill M, LeBreton J. Adaptive memory: The mnemonic value of animacy. Psychol Sci. 2013;24:2099-2105. doi:10.1177/0956797613480803
  2. Bugaiska A, Méot A, Bonin P. Do healthy elders, like young adults, remember animates better than inanimates? An adaptive view. Exp Aging Res. 2016;42:447-459. doi:10.1080/0361073X.2016.1224631
  3. Félix SB, Pandeirada JNS, Nairne JS. Animacy norms for 224 European Portuguese concrete words. Análise Psicológica. 2020;38:257-269. doi:10.14417/ap.1690
  4. Clark JM, Paivio A. Extensions of the Paivio, Yuille, and Madigan (1968) norms. Behav Res Methods, Instruments Comput. 2004;36:371-383. doi:10.3758/BF03195584
  5. Barrett HC, Behne T. Children’s understanding of death as the cessation of agency: A test using sleep versus death. Cognition. 2005;96:93-108. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2004.05.004
  6. Smith RE, Hunt RR. Prospective memory in young and older adults: The effects of task importance and ongoing task load. Aging Neuropsychol Cogn. 2014;21:411-431. doi:10.1080/13825585.2013.827150
  7. Félix SB, Botsas A, Poirier M, Pandeirada, JNS. How do older adults see animacy in words? A norming study with a British sample. Poster accepted for presentation at vSARMAC; July 23-24, 2021.
  8. Félix SB, Pandeirada JNS. Do animates help to implement future tasks? The effect of animacy in prospective memory. Poster presented at 2021 APS Virtual Convention; May 26-27, 2021.

I very like your proposal. Congratulations! :kissing_heart: Goodluck!


Thank you very much, @Rosana_Patane!


Great proposal!! Good luck !!


Thank you very much @Rui_Pinho :blush:

1 Like

Great proposal! You deserve to win!


Thank you so much, @Sara_Leal! The best of luck to accomplish your projects too.


Proposta marcada por forte atualidade e utilidade. Parabéns.


Good luck for your case study!!


[English below]
[PT] Muito obrigada pelo comentário, @Ary_Jesus! De facto, estamos a vivenciar um envelhecimento populacional nunca antes visto, o que acarreta uma série de desafios para este século (nomeadamente, em termos da saúde mental/cognitiva das pessoas idosas). Se esta vantagem mnésica para os itens animados (o “efeito da animacidade”) se verificar neste “novo” tipo de memória (relacionado com lembrarmo-nos e implementarmos ações/intenções a serem realizadas no futuro, tal como a toma de medicamentos), bem como em idosos, tal poderá ter um impacto positivo na melhoria da nossa memória quotidiana! Em particular, poderemos usar tal conhecimento para desenvolver estratégias para melhorar o funcionamento mnésico dos idosos (ajudando-os a viver de forma mais independente e significativa). Muito obrigada, uma vez mais!

[EN] Thank you very much for your feedback, @Ary_Jesus . Indeed, we are living an unprecedented population aging, which brings great challenges to our century (namely, in terms of the older adults’ mental/cognitive health). If this mnemonic advantage for animate items (the “animacy effect”) occurs in this “new” type of memory (related to remembering and implementing intentions/tasks to-be-performed in the future; such as taking medicines), as well as in older adults, this might have a positive impact in terms of improving our daily memory functioning! In particular, we might use that knowledge to develop strategies to improve older adults’ memory funcioning (and, thus, helping them living a more independent and meaningful life). Thank you once again!


Thank you so much, @Joao_Fernandes ! :relaxed: Hopefuly, this grant proposal might help us developing those studies. Fingers crossed! Best regards


Well done! Good replicable design.


Thank you very much, @Miguel_Oliveira. Indeed we have additional information in the pre-registrations of the studies (which hyperlinks we will be glad to share if asked; we have not shared it already with the proposal because the ‘privacy’ feature of it - which is an important issue to blind review processes - would be compromised, as this is a public competition).

Thank you for your comment!

1 Like

Parabéns Sara! De grande relevância a sua proposta! Sucesso!!!


[English below]
[PT] Muito obrigada, Prof. @Marina_de_Arruda!
[EN] Thank you so much, Dr. @Marina_de_Arruda!

Goood Luck, Sara Felix!


Yes! Interesting proposal.

I think Japanese would animate/remember images whereas Westerners words.

1 Like

Good luck and thank you :wink:

1 Like

Thank you so much, @Joan_Rios and @JoseDeVos . All the best for your research too. :wink:

Thank you @timtak for your interest, as well as for your comment. Indeed, the animacy effect has been obtained in several types of memory tasks (e.g., recognition, free recall), with different types of stimuli (e.g., words, nonwords and pictures) and in different languages (e.g., English, German, Portuguese, Chinese). I do not know any study on the animacy effect (in memory) conducted in Japan; but it would be certainly very interesting to study that within the Japanese culture! Thank you once again.