Can Transactive Memory Foster Healthy Relationships?

Readers of the Healthymemory Blog should know that transactive memory refers to memories stored outside one’s personal biological memory. There are two generic types of transactive memory: other humans and technology. Most of the research on transactive memory has involved other humans. For example, the role that transactive memory plays in team performance1, or the relationship between couples given the quality and nature of their transactive memory2. Not surprisingly, the quality and nature of transactive memory is beneficial in both cases.

An article in the Washington Post Sunday Magazine considered both types of transactive memory in a marital relationship.3 The author of the article hoped that by looking at the Web sites her husband had visited, she could learn something new about him. After looking at these Web sites she concluded that she had learned something new. She found that his internet searches quietly illustrated his affection for her. She also reciprocated by forwarding some of her favorite web sites to him.

The author recognizes the risks into looking into one’s partner’s online life. Boredom is one potential risk. Some sites could be unsettling. Or they could reveal that your partner avidly supported causes you didn’t believe in. Or that your partner wasted time on stupid things or was just really dull.

Fortunately her husband didn’t disappoint her. He also told her that he liked knowing what she was reading, and he felt that it helped him understand her better, but there still were limits.

Now this was a married couple in a successful relationship, but this viewing the web sites seems to have a good deal of potential for those considering entering into a relationship, or those in a relationship who are considering taking it to the next level. Tags on websites such as can be used to explore not only specific topics, but also the interrelationships of those topics to gain further insights into your partner. The goal here is not to learn everything or to psychoanalyze your partner. Rather it is to gain insights into their interests and beliefs to assess your compatability. This has the potential for the early termination of relationships that are destined for failure. On the other hand, it provides further basis for developing those successful transactive memories characteristic of couples in happy, healthy relationships.

1Michinov, E., Olivier-Chiron, E., Rusch, E., & Chiron, B. (2008). Influence of Transactive Memory on Perceived Performance, Job Satisfaction and Identification in Anesthesia Teams. British Journal of Anesthesia, 100, 327-332.

2Wegner, D.M., Giuliano, T., & Hertel, P. (1985). Cognitive Interdependence in Close Relationships. In W.J. Ickes (Ed.), Compatible and Incompatible Relationships . New York: Springer-Verlag

3Hesse, M. (2010). Recent History. Washington Post Sunday Magazine, June13, 20-24.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2010. 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 Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

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