Dr. Craig Thorley, PhD, is a Tenure-Track Lecturer in Psychology at University of Liverpool, England. As of January 2017 he will be a Lecturer in Psychology at James Cook University, Australia. He conducts laboratory based experiments examining theoretical and applied issues relating to the completeness and accuracy of human memory. His theoretical research focusses on issues such as how false memories develop whereas his applied research has focusses on issues such as how well jurors remember trial evidence. The research he discusses in this talk examines the costs and benefits of working in a group to recall information. It was carried out with Dr Stéphanie Marion from the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.
Group Work Can Harm Memory Recall
People often work together in groups to remember the same information. At home, family members may recall events from a holiday together. In the workplace, interview panels will work together to recall candidates’ answers so they can discuss them and decide who to employ. In the courtroom, jurors must work together to recall trial evidence so they can discuss it and reach a verdict.
Group remembering is studied in the laboratory by having people work together to recall the same information. As would be expected, groups recall more than individuals on these tests. There is, however, a cost to group remembering. Groups underperform on memory tests. Previous researchers have examined whether or not this happens as groups members slack off – this is not the case– even paying people to perform well in groups makes no difference. Something else is responsible. My research shows that group members underperform as they disrupt each other’s recall. We now know that people develop their own preferred ways of recalling information. For example, if two people recall a movie, one may prefer to recall it from start to finish but another may prefer to recall the most important events first. If these two people worked as a group to recall the movie, they would hear each other recall it in a different order and disrupt each other’s recall. Thus, if several people want to remember the same information and their aim is to recall as much as they can, they should do so individually and combine their recall afterwards.
Despite this cost, there is an additional benefit to group remembering. Groups produce highly accurate recall as their members correct each other’s mistakes. Thus, if several people want to recall the same information and their aim is to be as accurate as possible, they should do so in a group.
Ultimately, the costs and benefits of group remembering need to be considered before deciding whether or not to use it to recall information.