Social Transmission of Memory: Societal Implications
Contrary to intuition, people actually recall less when working in groups than when working alone, a phenomenon called collaborative inhibition. Along with such group forgetting, members also incorporate into their own memories information that others remembered, a process called memory contagion. The opposing consequences of forgetting and memory contagion have implications for education because group study practices common in classrooms reflect not only the benefits of greater learning and remembering but also the costs of additional forgetting and erroneous learning. Principles gleaned from basic research can inform the crafting of educational practices that heed not only the cognitive benefits but also the counterintuitive cognitive costs of collaboration.
In larger social networks containing a variety of partners, contagion patterns shift. Here, an individual's memory for new information is influenced not only by what their partners remember but also indirectly by what their partners' partners remember. This extended contagion of information in networks looks similar to patterns of contagion for behaviors such as smoking, suggesting that information is ‘contagious’ in groups in much the same way that behavior seems to be contagious. Thus, a study of social remembering also has implications for understanding real-world contagion of health-related behaviors.