Saturday, October 04, 2008

Transactive Memory

While reading the book "Tipping Point", I came across a very interesting concept. 'Transactive memory' is something like indirect, relational or even collective memory. For example, we do not remember all the phone numbers. But we remember where we have them stored and where the directory is. This concept can also be extended to people. In a group, we do not know answers to all the questions. But we know whom to approach if we encounter a particular problem.

The book states an interesting experiment scientists performed on some couples. They gave the couples some sentences to read where one word in each sentence was emphasized. Some couples were temporarily separated for the experiment while some were together to study the sentences. After that the scientists asked the couples to write down the words they remembered. The result was that couples that were together were able to remember more words than the separated couples. The theory proposed is that when people are together as a collaborative group, we serve as each other's resources not only emotionally  but also to know things, to remember things. Thus when couples get divorced, it is hard on them because a part of their so called 'transactive memory' is lost.

When I was reading this an interesting thought came to my mind. India has a history of joint family system. In these days and especially in cities, this concept has been either modified or completely outdated. So I was thinking if there are any benefits of the joint family system in terms of this 'transactive memory'. I am not saying that our forefathers decided to have joint family system because they knew about 'transactive memory'. But may be they found out over the years and centuries of observation that in a joint family, tasks are divided, including financial burdens. You have more resources at hand. Also if you encounter any problem, you know whom to turn to because the possibility of finding an expert in house is more.

I grew up in a joint family home till my high school. I consider myself very lucky as my grandparents were my emotional support in my teenage years. My parents did not have to worry about my safety or diet or anything. I knew whom to approach to ask for anything. The book describes this situation as some kind of peer pressure where we all do better because we all know each other too well.

So am I trying to say that joint family system is the best and everyone should live in one? No, that is an individual decision. I am just saying that when you are in a joint family system or in a home where the relations are of co-operation, we all have a bigger 'transactive memory' and that means we all collectively remember more things. We all are collectively more resourceful. At the same time, we all can grow individually.


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