When it comes to memory, two heads aren’t always better than one.
According to a newly published overview of memory research, solo students retain more information when they study alone, opposed to when they study in a group. A group as a whole still remembers more than a single individual, but no single member of the group can remember to his or her full potential. Each member of the group can recall less than if they’d studied alone.
The disruption of study habits is a major factor that makes group studying less effective than individual studying. Everyone has his or her own methods of picking information out of their minds, which makes working with others distracting. And there is also “social contagion”, in which one group member brings up an error or “remembers” something that did not actually happen. These errors can seem real to rest of the group.
But according to Supama Rajaram, a psychologist at Stony Brook University in New York, other peoples’ memories can enrich our own. Anyone who suddenly remembers a long-ago event while listening to a story can relate to this. He also notes that “error pruning”, in which someone corrects false information, is a benefit of group studying.
But aside from its pitfalls and benefits, remembering collectively fulfills an emotional need.
“When the other person cannot validate shared memories,” Rajaram said, “they are both robbed of the past.”
Contains information from CBS.