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Collaborative recall

Another major experimental paradigm used to measure the impact of recalling the past with others is collaborative recall (Basden, Basden, Bryner, & Thomas, 1997; Blumen & Rajaram, 2008; Finlay, Hitch, & Meudell, 2000; Weldon & Bellinger, 1997), which was designed to assess the “costs and benefits” of remembering in a group (Basden, Basden, & Henry, 2000; for review, see Harris, Paterson, & Kemp, 2008). Collaborative recall models the kind of remembering and forgetting that occurs around the dinner table when a family reminisces about the last holiday they took together. In this paradigm, the recall performance of collaborative groups (people recalling together) is compared to the recall performance of nominal groups (the pooled recall of the same number of individuals recalling alone; see Figure 6.4). We might assume that recalling with others should help our individual performance. But the opposite is true. Research on collaborative recall has consistently demonstrated that collaborative groups recall less than nominal groups; this effect is termed “collaborative inhibition” (Weldon & Bellinger, 1997; Basden et al., 2000).

The best supported explanation for collaborative inhibition is the retrieval strategy disruption hypothesis: recalling information in a group disrupts each individual’s retrieval strategies, making them less efficient (Basden et al., 1997).That is, recalling with others results in each individual forgetting items that they would have been able to recall alone. Evidence for this account comes from research showing that collaborative inhibition is abolished when each group member is responsible for recalling a different part of a categorized list (Basden et al., 1997). Also, collaborative inhibition is abolished when recall is cued (Finlay et al. 2000), when group members are forced to organize their recall by category (and hence, presumably, use the same retrieval strategies, Basden et al., 1997), or when group members are unable to hear or see the items recalled by other group members (Wright & Klumpp, 2004). Essentially, collaborative inhibition is abolished when individuals in a group remember not as a group, but as individuals, that is, when the group cannot hinder, but also cannot help, recall.

Collaboration has ongoing influences on individual memory. Prior collaboration results in an inhibition of hypermnesia; participants who have collaborated are subsequently more likely to recall items mentioned in the collaboration, but less likely to recall new items from the original list (Basden et al., 2000).That is, collaboration shapes subsequent individual recall, both in terms of remembering (mentioned

The collaborative recall procedure (Basden, et al., 2000)

FIGURE 6.4 The collaborative recall procedure (Basden, et al., 2000)

items) and forgetting (unmentioned items). Interestingly, recent results from our lab suggest that collaboration can improve accuracy (if not amount recalled), both during collaboration and on subsequent individual tests, but only when collaborating groups are instructed to reach a consensus about each item recalled (Harris, Barnier, & Sutton, 2012).

Much like standard RIF, DF, and TNT, most of the research on collaborative recall has focused on relatively neutral material. If remembering with others does influence what we remember and forget, we might expect this influence to operate particularly for important or emotional memories, when recalling with our social groups (e.g., family, friends) or when recalling shared events. In terms of emotional events,Yaron-Antar and Nachson (2006) examined whether collaboration impaired recall of the details of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Rabin. It still did; collaborative groups still showed collaborative inhibition. In terms of recalling with our social groups, studies of whether collaborative inhibition is reduced or abolished when in groups of acquaintances have yielded mixed results: Andersson and Ronnberg (1995) reported less collaborative inhibition for groups of friends, while Gould, Osborn, Krein, and Mortenson (2002) reported no difference between married and unacquainted dyads. Other aspects of the group, apart from familiarity, may also be important in determining the outcomes of collaboration. Social and motivational factors—such as whether the interaction is face-to-face or electronic, and the perceived output level of the group—impact the amount remembered and forgotten by the individuals in a group (Ekeocha & Brennan, 2008; Reysen, 2003). Notably, in a recent study of collaboration between expert pilots, who are skilled at communicating in order to perform tasks together, Meade, Nokes, and Morrow (2009) found facilitation not inhibition. In terms of shared and unshared events, we recently conducted a study of collaborative recall among friends and strangers, who either encoded information together or individually. Our results suggest that, when information is encoded individually, collaboration results in inhibition for both groups of strangers and groups of friends. But when information is encoded as a group, collaboration results in no inhibition for groups of strangers or groups of friends (Harris, Barnier, & Sutton, 2009).

In an extension of the collaborative recall paradigm to memory for personal experiences, we examined how conversation about a shared, significant event might shape memory for and feelings about that event (Harris, Barnier, Sutton, & Keil, 2010). Following the sudden death ofAustralian celebrity,“Crocodile Hunter”Steve Irwin, we asked participants to come to the lab and either discuss their memories for hearing of Irwin’s death in a group of three, or to spend time thinking about their memory alone. We indexed participants’ memories for and feelings about the event on three occasions—before the discussion phase, one week later, and one month later. We found that, during discussion, references to personally being upset by Irwin’s death were silenced. Consider the following excerpt from a group conversation between a female participants (K) and two male participants (M and E):

К: I know people that cried when they were watching the memorial service when Bindi was doing her speech.

M: Yeah, that was really sad! I don’t know anybody who actually cried ...

E: Did you cry?

K: Can’t say that I did.

E: Do you know anybody that cares at all?

M: I don’t think a lot of people ...

К. I think people feel bad for him. A lot of people.

E. People die every day.

This excerpt illustrates the process of negotiation that occurred during conversations, such that personal emotion was silenced. This silencing influenced subsequent memory—participants who discussed their memory reduced their ratings of how upset they had been when they heard the news, relative to participants who thought about the event alone. In this case, discussion resulted in forgetting of emotion, rather than the factual details of the event. Indeed more recent research supports the view that collaboration selectively reduces remembered negative emotion (Maswood et al., 2019). While the collaborative recall paradigm suggests that remembering with others results in forgetting, our research suggests that this forgetting is targeted—that collaboration may result in forgetting of specific aspects of an event depending on the group norms that emerge during discussion (Harris et al., 2010). That is, social motivations, such as fitting into a group of peers or agreeing with others, can drive what is remembered and forgotten, even for emotional events that are well remembered (cf. Fivush, 2004) In the last ten years, studies of social remembering in various domains within psychology as well as across disciplines have flourished (see Meade, Harris,Van Bergen, Sutton, & Barnier, 2018).


Overall, research on SS-RIF and collaborative recall suggests that a range of individual and social factors can influence what is remembered and what is forgotten when people talk about the past together. This research highlights that laboratory paradigms of individual and social forgetting can be extended to examine more complex questions about ways in which our social interactions influence what we remember and what we forget.

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