Does Ethnicity Influence Memory Recall in Social Settings?

Daphne Siozios ’23

Figure 1: While people create and recall memories at the individual level, the focus has shifted to understanding how social influences control collective memory and learning abilities.

Collaborative learning occurs when a group of individuals works together to remember shared information and events. Not much is known about how the collaborative learning process and a social setting aids memory formation, analysis, and recollection since past research in the field has mainly focused on studying individuals in isolation. Professor Suparna Rajaram at Stony Brook University works to examine the effect of ethnic diversity in group composition on collaborative memory as compared to that of uniform, less diverse groups.

Rajaram and her colleagues started by assigning about 288 human participants an online survey about race and ethnicity. After finding that 48 participants self-identified as Asian, 48 as black/African American, and 192 as white, the researchers evenly grouped the participants into triads. These triads were categorized into uniform (white-only) independent recall, uniform collaborative recall, diverse (one of each race) independent recall, and diverse collaborative recall. After such triads were made, participants were subjected to an individual study phase where they sat alone at a computer, and a 120-word list was presented to them in a randomized order. The study phase was followed by a 7-minute delay, where participants were selected to play one of two computer games. After this, participants in the independent categories had seven minutes to recall as many words as possible, while collaborative triads worked together from one computer screen.

This study found that one distinct idea known as homophily, where individuals associate with people who are similar to them more than people who are different, had a big impact on reduced collaborative inhibition among diverse groups. Specifically, the standard collaborative inhibition effect in recall was present in the sense that the collaborative triads recalled significantly fewer studied words than the pooled recall of the individual triads. They also found that uniform or diverse group composition did not influence recall at all. This suggests that regardless of the level of diversity present in collaborative triads, collaborative inhibition still occurs and is comparable across varying group compositions.

By addressing crucial questions about the nature of social memory, such as how memories are cultivated among social connections, further insights can be made regarding the role of ethnic diversity in collaborative memory. Future research can focus on specific social settings such as classrooms or workplaces where ethnic diversity heavily exists and determine whether factors such as age, gender, or social status play a role in memory recall.

Works Cited:

[1]S. Rajaram, N. Pepe, and Q. Wang, Collaborative remembering of ethnically uniform and diverse group settings. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition 10, 95-103 (2021). doi: 10.1016/j.jarmac.2020.08.001.

[2]Image retrieved from: https://pixabay.com/illustrations/brain-think-human-idea-20424/

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