Showing posts with label ecological goals. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ecological goals. Show all posts

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Social Contagion of Autobiographical Memories


Today's post is from Celia Harris, who works in the Department of Cognitive Science at Macquarie University in Sydney Australia. In this post she summarises research from her paper "Social Contagion of Autobiographical Memories" recently published in Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition.



I’m interested in memory, and particularly the social and functional aspects. What do we use memory for in our day-to-day lives, and in our social relationships? And how does this inform our models and theories of memory, which have typically been developed by focusing on individuals learning word lists in a lab?

One of the aims of my research has been to counter the negative emphasis on the power of social interaction to distort memory. My research suggests that social influence does indeed shape and alter memories in interesting ways, consistent with our goals of agreeing with others and being informed by them. However I argue that we shouldn’t necessarily see these influences as “distortion” and individual memory as “pure”, but rather we should understand these social influences on memory in their ecological context as serving goals for individuals and groups.

In a recent paper, along with my co-authors, I reported a study where we applied the “social contagion of memory” paradigm to autobiographical memories. Social contagion – adopting a ‘disease’ metaphor for social influence – is an experimental method that has been developed to study social influences on memory in the laboratory. In the original paradigm, participants view a set of household scenes and recall them with a confederate (acting as a fellow participant but actually working for the experimenter). During the course of their joint recall, this confederate mentions specific false items that never appeared. The social contagion effect is demonstrated when participants later recall these false items as if they had actually seen them.

We were interested in whether we would find similar effects when people recalled and discussed personally experienced events instead of more artificial stimuli. In our autobiographical adaptation, participants described four specific events to a confederate, who also described four (scripted) events. Participants and confederates summarised each other’s memories, and the confederate inserted two specific new details when they summarised participant’s memories. We tested whether participants later included these details when recalling alone, thus showing evidence of social contagion.