Suparna Rajaram


Distinguished Professor, Department of Psychology, Stony Brook University

Suparna Rajaram Webpage

ABSTRACT | True and False Memory Transmission in Small Groups and Large Networks: A Cognitive Analysis of How Collective Memories Emerge

Shared stories are the glue of our social lives. Friends and families as well as societies and nations develop shared memory narratives in the service of personal, social, and national goals. To answer questions about the nature of group-level remembering and the process of memory convergence from a cognitive-psychological perspective, I draw upon over a century of experimental research on individual memory. I leverage the principles and findings derived from this body of rigorous work to examine how the cognitive constituents operating at the individual level give rise to shared narratives at the collective level. As one might imagine, remembering with others enhances memory.  But critically, it also produces counterintuitive outcomes. For example, people recall less when remembering with others than when remembering alone. Along with such forgetting, people also exhibit memory contagion; they incorporate into their own memories information that others remembered. Such contagion occurs not only for true information but also for false information, underscoring the influence of social connections on our memory. These seemingly opposing group dynamics align the memories of group members, and suggest the cognitive markers for how national memories can become homogenized and promote nationalism. Our findings further show that the structure of the social network is a critical factor for memory convergence. For example, insular groups promote collective remembering of false information and collective forgetting of positive information. Such experimental analyses provide insights into how memories are subject to reconstruction through a social process and can, in turn, inform the emergence of nationalism.