We Remember, We Forget: Collaborative Remembering in Older Couples

Discourse Processes 48 (4):267-303 (2011)
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Abstract

Transactive memory theory describes the processes by which benefits for memory can occur when remembering is shared in dyads or groups. In contrast, cognitive psychology experiments demonstrate that social influences on memory disrupt and inhibit individual recall. However, most research in cognitive psychology has focused on groups of strangers recalling relatively meaningless stimuli. In the current study, we examined social influences on memory in groups with a shared history, who were recalling a range of stimuli, from word lists to personal, shared memories. We focused in detail on the products and processes of remembering during in-depth interviews with 12 older married couples. These interviews consisted of three recall tasks: (1) word list recall; (2) personal list recall, where stimuli were relevant to the couples’ shared past; and (3) an open-ended autobiographical interview. We conducted these tasks individually and then collaboratively two weeks later. Across each of the tasks, although some couples demonstrated collaborative inhibition, others demonstrated collaborative facilitation. We identified a number of factors that predicted collaborative success, in particular, group-level strategy use. Our results show that collaboration may help or hinder memory, and certain interactions are more likely to produce collaborative benefits.

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John Sutton
Macquarie University

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