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Communication, Social Memory and Social Cognition Essay

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Communication, Social Memory and Social Cognition

In this paper we are going to study the major forms of memory, its relation to cognition and process of communication.

Traditional psychological definition of memory is – “an organism’s ability to store, retain, and subsequently retrieve information” (Anderson, 15). However, in the late nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth century memory was already included into the paradigms of cognitive psychology. Nowadays memory also plays an important part for linking the cognitive psychology to neuroscience. Memory is a rather sophisticated process and thus a number of classifications is usually applied, namely that of duration, nature, retrieval of information.

Three major stages of information processing are usually separated:
• receipt and encoding of the information
• storage – creating the records of the received information
• recall of the information (Anderson, 26).

On the basis of duration of memory the following main types of memory are outlined: sensory, short term and long term. Sensory memory means the first 200-500 milliseconds after the perception. It is not possible to prolong this type of memory with the help of rehearsal. After this first perception of the information, it can be transformed into short-term memory, which would allow retrieving the information within several seconds, up to one minute without repeating it. This is clear, that long-term memory differs from the previous two types in the length of the period, during which the received information can be recalled, due to its ability to encode the information semantically.

Another widespread division of memory types includes only two categories: procedural memories and declarative memories. Procedural memories can explain the absence of the central pattern generators just after birth; they are formed later due to repetition of the signals and building of the connections between neurons (Adams, 44).

Declarative memories are related to the past experiences, the main examples of them could be: historical facts, scientific theories, relationships inside a family and so on (Ben-Zeev, 290).

Daniel L. Schacter studied in detail human memory in his book “Searching for Memory: the Brain, the Mind, and the Past”. He argued, that memory doesn’t simply consist of words said or things happened in the past, neither can it be compared to the bid of information, recalled by a computer. “The constituents of memory, different aspects of experience, are stored in different parts of the brain, and are activated by combining, in the present, aspects of different systems. Rememberers tie together fragments and feelings into a coherent narrative or story” (Adams, 49).

Further, Schacter described different forms of memory, including: episodic memory, semantic memory and procedural memory; at the same time he tried to link memory to neurological sections of the human brain. He stated, that memory played an important role for evolution mechanisms. Along with individual memory he spoke about social memory, which is more sophisticated and not temporary. He believed, that some part of knowledge and information was saved and not forgotten due to language, art and media use. When people are talking about the same event, there are more chances that this event won’t be forgotten and could be recalled some time later. However, at the same time appears a risk of misinterpretation of the events, which leads to false memories, coming from bias. This is evident, that after receiving some information, people tend to transfer it into personal recollections. “Overt suggestion and other means of memory reinforcement add to the problem. Eyewitnesses who receive positive feedback, for example, are confirmed in their statements and more confident in their recall.” (Anderson, 48).

There are some facts, which are not based only on memory. For example if a person remembers another person as his father, this could never change the genetic facts or any other events that happened before his birth. Thus, in the past we could find not only reflections of individual memory, but rather of social memory. This means, that a child, who certainly can not remember any facts about his birth, can hear all the information about it from his parents through their narration and communication with them. It is logical to conclude here, that social memory begins and exists not due to formal or informal records, but from the very beginning due to language and communication. This means, that social memory was separated from the individual memory not purely because of development of television, computers and so on, but first of all thanks to language.

Social memory is vital not only for simple transmission of the information about the past to the new generations, it can also influence the whole societies if they get very much dependent upon their memories, for example concerning significance of certain ethic groups or evolutionary advantages. This doesn’t root from a simple competition of narratives between groups of people, people of the groups and outside them interact and react to each other; they build their narratives on the bases of the evidences from the past, at the same time they can create or add some facts in order to justify the fact that they exist. The individual memory is used for evaluating and understanding of the social narratives and then for making the conclusions whether the social memory was correct or not.

The connection between individual memory and the surrounding cultural world is supported by cognition. “Social cognition is the study of how people process social information, especially its encoding, storage, retrieval, and application to social situations. Social cognition’s focus on information processing has many affinities with its sister discipline, cognitive psychology” (Adams, 52).

“Increasing recognition of the context-dependent nature of memory links cognitive psychology with a diverse body of recent work on cognition as ‘distributed’ across the body and the world as well as the brain.” (Baddeley, 302). In order to evaluate the extent of the influence of different TV shows or some other social presentations on the person’s general beliefs it is necessary to study the role, played by certain exemplars, as it is clear, that a person makes judgments about the social world after he studied the concrete exemplars in a concrete context.

“Exemplar activation occurs automatically in the presence of strong retrieval cues. In addition to specific exemplars, the general schemas that are activated in a particular judgment context are likely to have a pronounced influence on social cognition.” (Baddeley, 303).

Cognitive representations of social objects are called schemas (Baddeley, 305). Each schema usually has to do with one of the mental structures, reflecting the world aspects; they are placed into the associative memory building networks of schemas or clusters of schemas. When impulse, activating one schema is received, the other schemas, which are related to the first one, can also be activated. The speed of activation of these schemes depends on the level of their accessibility. “When related schemas are activated, inferences beyond the information given in a particular social situation may influence thinking and social behavior, regardless of whether those inferences are accurate or not. Lastly, when a schema is activated a person may or may not be aware of it” (Adams, 64).

Salience and priming are the two major factors, which are able to influence the accessibility of schemas. Salience reflects the extent of the distinction of the certain social object from the others in a concrete situation. If for example there is a single man in the company of women, his gender schemas are luckily to be more accessible. Priming is connected to the previous experience received from the past situations and thus can also make some schemas more accessible.

Overall, we roughly studied the main forms and elements of memory, its relation to cognition processes of the human brains, and the way it can be reflected in the communication between individuals.

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