Social Transmission of Memory: Societal Implications

Saturday, February 18, 2017: 2:00 PM-2:15 PM
Room 308 (Hynes Convention Center)
Suparna Rajaram, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY
As social animals, people spend a majority of their lives sharing and remembering experiences with others. Couples, friends, families, study groups, work teams, and even members within communities and societies develop shared memories to fulfill a variety of personal, social, educational, and political goals. Using principles developed over 100 years of experimental research on individual memory ability, we investigate social influences on memory. This paradigm shift opens up the opportunity to examine how remembering by a group reshapes the memory of each member and of the group as a whole, and how the flow of such information in social settings can provide insights into issues related to education and public health.

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.