Posts Tagged ‘encoding specificity principle’

Transactive Memory Meets Human Memory

November 6, 2009

When you save a file on your computer you are saving information in transactive memory. Subsequently you are likely to want to retrieve information from transactive memory. When you remember that there is information that you want on the internet, then you need to retrieve this information from transactive memory. However, just as in the case of human memory, and this is analogous to the tip-of-the-tongue (TOT), you sometimes know, are virtually certain, that the information is there, but you cannot find or retrieve it.

In the case of a computer, you cannot remember either the folder, the file name, the URL, or tag, or bookmark. I have had the experience, on more occasions than I would like to admit, where I was absolutely certain when I saved the file that given the filename I had used and the folder in which I had saved the information virtually guaranteed that I would be able to retrieve it whenever I wanted to no matter how far into the future I attempted. But when I tried to retrieve the file I could not and had to resort to searching for it. I have had similar problems on the internet. When I left the information, the location was so obvious that I was certain I could find it again with no difficulty. Or when I had either bookmarked or tagged the information, I was certain to be able to access it. Yet I ultimately ended up searching for this information.

These failures are not transformational memory failures. Rather they are failures of human memory. These failures are well understood and their remedies are known. Key here is the encoding specificity principle. To retrieve information, you need to use the same retrieval cue, or think about it in the same way, when you try to retrieve it as when you stored it. It is also important to pay adequate attention to this information. I believe most of my retrieval failures are due to being overconfident at the time of storage. I was so sure that these were obvious that I did not pay adequate attention.

The basic principles of all mnemonic techniques apply here. Have a plan for both storing and retrieving the information. This plan will include a method for generating retrieval cues and for accessing these retrieval cues at the time of retrieval.

To this point the discussion has focused on the technological part of transactive memory, but the same problems can apply to the human component. You can forget who knows what. Ultimately failures to retrieve information from transactive memory, both of the technological and human varieties involve searching. Fortunately in the technological case, there are tools and these tools function rapidly. Unfortunately in the human case, searching can be both slow and embarrassing.


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