Ethnic Diversity and Recall: Is there a connection?

Yukta Kulkarni ’22

Figure 1: An illustration of a circle of multi-ethnic hands, symbolizing the idea of interconnectedness and working together; if one hand is not in place, the circle is misshapen

People spend thirteen years of their lives, from around five to eighteen years old, in school, where they learn both academic content and social etiquette. They may then go on to university and reinforce these skills and knowledge. Thus, students require not only a good memory, but also the ability to collaborate with others. However, not all students benefit equally from working with others. Diversity plays a role in how students absorb information in an educational or collaborative setting, otherwise known as collaborative memory. Pepe et al. sought to determine how the composition of a group in terms of races affected group members’ memories. 

The study was conducted at Stony Brook University, where 288 volunteers, split up into 96 triads, were tested on their memory recall. The students were told to memorize as many of the 120 words given to them as possible, each shown for a total of five seconds. They then had a seven-minute break as a “distractor period” before being assigned to a nominal or collaborative group. In the nominal group, the students were tested on their recall individually (no collaboration). In the collaborative group, the participants were further split into uniform triads (3 White students) and diverse triads (Asian, Black/African American, and White). They were able to work together as a group to recall the words using any strategy they could think of. After this first recall task, both groups were asked to work individually to recall the words they studied.

Collaborative inhibition (collaborative groups remembering fewer words than nominal groups) was observed in this experiment. The composition of the group (uniform or diverse) did not affect the number of words recalled. However, in the second recall, participants from the collaborative group had more overlap in the words they remembered compared to the participants in the nominal group. Again, there was no significant difference in the performance of the volunteers based on the level of diversity of their groups. In terms of the number of words recalled, Black/African American participants contributed less in the group and remembered fewer words in the second recall. Generally, these negative outcomes relating to ethnicity only occurred in the collaborative groups, indicating the large influence the diversity group had. These results suggest that there is a discrepancy between Black/African American participants and recall that needs to be identified and rectified to ensure equality in schools and universities. 

Works Cited:

[1] N. Pepe, Q. Wang, and S. Rajaram, Collaborative remembering in ethnically uniform and diverse group settings. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition (2020). Doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jarmac.2020.08.001 

[2] Image retrieved from: https://pixabay.com/vectors/circle-hands-teamwork-community-312343/ 

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