Culture Magazine

Memory in Collective Cognition

By Bbenzon @bbenzon
Mnemonic convergence in social networks: The emergent properties of cognition at a collective level Alin Comana, Ida Momennejada, Rae D. Drachc, and Andra Geanaa
PNAS Early Edition
Human memory is highly malleable. Because of this malleability, jointly remembering the past along with another individual often results in increased similarity between the conversational partners’ memories. We propose an approach that examines the conversation between a pair of participants as part of a larger network of social interactions that has the potential to reveal how human communities form collective memories. Empirical evidence indicating that dyadic-level conversational alignment processes give rise to community-wide shared memories is presented. We find that individual-level memory updating phenomena and social network structure are two fundamental factors that contribute to the emergence of collective memories.
The development of shared memories, beliefs, and norms is a fundamental characteristic of human communities. These emergent outcomes are thought to occur owing to a dynamic system of information sharing and memory updating, which fundamentally depends on communication. Here we report results on the formation of collective memories in laboratory-created communities. We manipulated conversational network structure in a series of real-time, computer-mediated interactions in fourteen 10-member communities. The results show that mnemonic convergence, measured as the degree of overlap among community members’ memories, is influenced by both individual-level information-processing phenomena and by the conversational social network structure created during conversational recall. By studying laboratory-created social networks, we show how large-scale social phenomena (i.e., collective memory) can emerge out of microlevel local dynamics (i.e., mnemonic reinforcement and suppression effects). The social-interactionist approach proposed herein points to optimal strategies for spreading information in social networks and provides a framework for measuring and forging collective memories in communities of individuals.

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