Date of Award

Spring 5-10-2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

David A. Washburn

Second Advisor

Michael J. Beran

Third Advisor

Christopher M. Conway


Understanding what stimuli are naturally salient is important not only for future research designs, but also for understanding underlying cognitive mechanisms that influence memory and attention across species. Previous research has shown that humans show preferential processing of animate over inanimate stimuli. Specifically, humans remember animate stimuli better than inanimate stimuli, and animate stimuli capture attention more quickly than inanimate stimuli (Nairne, Thompson, & Paneirada, 2007; New, Cosmides, & Tooby, 2007). One hypothesis is that this occurs due to evolutionary adapted mechanisms: our ancestors needed to monitor living things more closely because those things are most important to survival. However, few researchers have looked into the animacy effect using picture stimuli, and there has been no research on the animacy effect with nonhuman animals. The current study examined whether this adaptation theory holds true for humans and macaques using novel picture-based tasks. Neither antisaccade or symbolic match-to-sample tasks showed a significant difference in attention to or memory for animate versus inanimate stimuli with human participants, suggesting that the animacy effect does not hold true for picture stimuli. Additionally, macaques only exhibited a significant difference between stimulus types in the memory task, casting doubt on the theory that attention to animacy may be an evolutionary adapted mechanism, at least for static stimuli.