Collaborative Memory Research Paper

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Although ‘collaborative memory’ may be briefly defined as remembering activities involving multiple persons, a more precise delineation of the phenomenon is the major goal of this research paper. Accordingly, several key premises of the phenomenon of collaborative memory should be noted at the outset. These include the following: (a) collaborative memory refers to a form or characteristic of remembering activity rather than to a theoretical system or function of memory; (b) scientific analysis of collaborative memory performance is based in part on principles derived from, and complementary to, theories pertaining to individual-level memory phenomena; (c) as collaborative memory performance is often influenced by both cognitive and interactive processes, research methods and interpretations from neighboring disciplines may be consulted or incorporated; (d) contemporary collaborative memory research and theory is neutral (i.e., empirically open) to questions regarding the benefits and costs of multiperson remembering, and may exist independent of specific effects; and (e) that numerous everyday remembering activities occur in the context of other cooperating individuals provides a necessary but not sufficient rationale for investigating collaborative memory.

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1. Phases and Forms of Collaborative Memory

Collaboration in remembering may be differentiated by (a) whether it occurs during the encoding or retrieval phase of individual-level memory, or (b) the form of memory (i.e., the system or task) in which it occurs (or to which it is addressed). Although no definitive frequency data are available, collaborative memory activities occur perhaps most commonly during a retrieval phase. Thus, n 1 individuals attempt to recall information to which they have been previously exposed and for which no single individual possesses a perfect representation. Collaborative memory during this phase is often directed at remembering a commonly experienced personal event (i.e., collaborative episodic memory) or an item of knowledge or information to which the individuals would likely have been exposed (i.e., collaborative semantic memory). In addition, collaborating in recalling an intention or to-be-performed action (i.e., collaborative prospective memory) may be an example. Family or friendship groups attempting collectively to reconstruct stories from their shared past provide numerous fascinating (and entertaining) examples of collaborative episodic remembering. Laboratory illustrations include collaborative remembering of verbal or nonverbal information. Partners attempting to cue one another in recalling historical knowledge, such as the major Kings of Sweden or the combatants and outcome of the Peloponnesian War, are collaboratively performing a semantic memory task.

In addition to retrieval, remembering activities in the context of other individuals may occasionally concentrate on the encoding phase, wherein individuals collectively work to record incoming information in ‘multisite’ temporary storage (i.e., collaborative working memory). To be sure, in an inescapable sense, the ‘memory’ that is being encoded ‘resides’ in one brain, in personal or individual-level storage. Thus, collaborative encoding involves incidental or cooperative activities that may enhance the probability that a to-be-remembered (TBR) item is recorded, and thereby accessible (i.e., retrievable) at a later date by one or more individuals. For example, partners may develop encoding mnemonics or divide the task in order to enhance the storage of rapidly incoming information.

Collaboration may occur if the to-be-remembered information is not immediately or comprehensively available to any single participating individual. That is, a deficit is present—i.e., the answer is known neither immediately nor definitively by one individual—there is no opportunity (or no need) for collaboration. In collaborative episodic or semantic memory, an assumption is that the individuals may offer both common and unique memories. In addition, in the process of collaboration some mutual cuing may occur, such that novel items are produced. In collaborative prospective memory, the deficit may be an anticipated one. An individual may be concerned about forgetting to perform a future action (e.g., birthday, appointment, message) and enlist a spouse to help them remember at an appropriate time. Although both retrieval and encoding phases may occur in the (presumably assistive) context of participating individuals, both remain fundamentally individual-level functions. In this sense, collaboration qualifies the process and products of remembering, but does not necessarily carry emergent properties.

2. Scope and Selected Conceptual Issue

For several decades, researchers in a surprising variety of fields have addressed aspects of everyday memory activity that appear to operate in the influential context of other individuals. Although some cross-field differences in terminology and assumptions exist, several disputed conceptual issues are common to them all. One still-unresolved issue concerns the extent to which collaboration is optimally or acceptably effective.

2.1 Scope of the Phenomenon

The phenomenon has been also called collective (e.g., Middleton and Edwards 1990), situated (e.g., Greeno 1998), group (e.g., Clark and Stephenson 1989), socially shared (e.g., Resnick et al. 1991), interactive (e.g., Baltes and Staudinger 1996), transactive (Wegner 1987), or collaborative (e.g., Dixon 1996) memory. The fields in which this phenomenon has historically been of interest include educational psychology, cognitive science, social-cognitive psychology, industrial-organizational psychology, child developmental psychology, and adult developmental psychology (recent reviews include Baltes and Staudinger 1996, Engestrom and Middleton 1998, Kirshner and Whitson 1997, Lave and Wenger 1991).

2.2 Continuing Theoretical and Research Issues

Common to these literatures is the basic fact that two or more individuals attend to the same set of learning or memory tasks and are working cooperatively (although not necessarily effectively) to achieve a recall-related goal. Notably, the members of the collaborating group can be variously passive listeners, conversational interactants, productive collaborators, seasoned tutors, counterproductive or even disruptive influences, or optimally effective partners. Therefore, according to the neutral definition of collaborative memory espoused in this research paper, no a priori assumptions are made about the effectiveness or logical priority of the memory-related interaction. It has long been clear that group processes can vary in their effectiveness and thus group products can vary in their accuracy and completeness (e.g., Steiner 1972).

The issue of the extent to which collaborative memory is effective has been evaluated from numerous perspectives for several decades. Indeed, much research has focused on this contentious issue (e.g., Dixon 1999, Hill 1982), with several key factors appearing to play a role in the observations and inferences. These factors include: (a) whether the participants are collaborative-interactive experts (e.g., friends or couples), (b) the type of outcome measure observed (i.e, a simple product such as total items recalled or a variety of recall-related products such as elaborations and inferences), (c) the extent to which the actual processes (e.g., strategic negotiations) and byproducts (e.g., affect and sharing) of the collaborative communication are investigated, and (d) the comparison or baseline by which the effectiveness of collaborative performance is evaluated. In general, little extra benefit is observed under conditions in which researchers reduce the dimensionality of the tasks, the familiarity of the interactants, the variety of the memory-related products measured, and the richness of the collaborative communication (e.g., Meudell et al. 1992). In contrast, evidence for notable collaborative benefit may be observed when researchers attend to collaborative expertise, multidimensional outcomes, measurement of actual collaborative processes, and comparisons accommodated to memoryimpaired or vulnerable groups (e.g., Dixon and Gould 1998).


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