Transactive Memory: An Important Concept Not to Be Overlooked

Transactive memory refers to memories stored outside your biological brain. Writing a list of items to be purchased at a store on a piece of paper is an example of transactive memory. So is asking your wife to remember the directions to a friend’s house. There are two generic media for storing transactive memories: technological and external biological. Memories can be stored in external technology (paper and pencil is an example of technology) or in other people. So you can get by not only with a little help from technology, but you can also get by with a little help from your friends. You can upgrade your technology and move from a paper pad to a personal digital assistant.

It is also useful to make a distinction between accessible transactive memory, available transactive memory, and potential transactive memory. Accessible transactive memory refers to memories you can readily retrieve. Information you can readily retrieve from the internet is an example of accessible transactive memory. Knowing someone who know the baseball statistics you are trying to find is an example accessible memory. Knowing that information is available on the internet, but not knowing where to find it is an example of available transactive memory. Knowing that there is some baseball expert who can answer your question, but not knowing exactly who that individual is provides an example of available transactive memory. Potential transactive memory could include all memories stored in the world.  This would include both technological (paper and electronic) storage and biological (data held in human memories) storage. 

Potential transactive memory provides the opportunity for cognitive growth. Most all internet activities can be helpful to the brain. You retrieve and store information, search for information, evaluate information. This can be done as part of a job, for pure enjoyment, or for personal growth. Multimedia provides the means of processing different modes of information. One way of looking at cognitive growth is to look as it as a matter of transferring information and knowledge from potential transactive memory, to available transactive memory, to accessible ttansactive memory, to personal biological memory. Of course, the objective here is not to try to store all the information in the world in your brain. This would be helpful and perhaps even harmful. When you encounter new information, you need to make a decision as to whether to ignore it or consider it further. One can be content knowing simply that information is there and that at some point in the future one might be interested in finding it (transferring it to available transactive memory). Or one can make a decision that one needs to be able to access the information when needed (transferring it to available transacive memory). And there is some information one would like to be able to retrieve without needing external memory aids.

Do not forget that other humans provide another means of storing information. Knowing that somebody somewhere does have a certain bit information is an example of available accessible transactive memory. Knowing who that individual is is an example of accessible transactive memory. Human forms of transactive memory also provide the basis for the development of beneficial human relationships, which also foster cognitive health.

Fletcher Platt is a gentleman in his nineties who shows not only what can be done with the internet, but also the potential of the internet. is the website he has developed and continues to develop. Not only has he personally benefited from developing his website, but he has provided an invaluable source of growth for others. I encourage you to peruse this website and give it the attention it deserves. It is likely to become a bookmark that you frequently access.



© Douglas Griffith and, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Douglas] and [] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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