Collective Memory Explained

By Nadia Khan

Updated December 19, 2018

Reviewer Aaron Horn


Collective memory is officially defined as "the shared pool of knowledge and information in the memories of two or more members of a social group." Various individuals are members of various groups and therefore have different recollections. No two people will share the same collective memories, and that's OK. There are also a variety of circumstances and factors which can impact collective memories. Upbringing, perceptions, environments, and personal beliefs can impact the quality of collective memories.

Scientific American states that collective memories are extremely impactful and can affect worldviews, overall attitudes, and the manner in which people regard and treat others. Moreover, collective memories are not set in stone; they can change with the coming and going of various generations. As certain social groups collective recall facts and information, these same social groups can also collectively forget depending on a litany of factors and circumstances. Sometimes newer memories can replace or override older ones; intensity, magnitude, and relevance admittedly impact the quality and longevity of collective memories.

An Overview Of Collective Memory

One of the most common social groups which retain collective memories is the people who comprise a nation. Scientific American explains that citizens of the United States are likelier than members of other countries to recall Pearl Harbor attacks, bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and D-Day. Each of the various events occurred during World War II. While they are not the only events which took place, they are the ones which Americans are more likely to recall.

However, while United States citizens are statistically more probable to recall the occurrences above of World War II, Russian citizens have a considerably contrasting recollection of World War II. Firstly, what Americans regard as World War II is what most Russians refer to as the Great Patriotic War. Of the "Great Patriotic War," Russian citizens are likelier to remember the Battle of Kursk and the Battle of Stalingrad.

Factors Of Collective Memory


The psychology behind collective memories has fascinated a plethora of great minds. Many people have studied these type of memories and their subsequent impacts. Everyday Sociology Blog explains that one of the greatest factors of collective memory relates to the various teachings of different social groups. For better or worse, memories are inherently influenced and impacted by the information which is fed to us.

A great example of the link between teachings of different social groups and collective memories comes in the form of various perceptions of America. American social groups vary in many regards; racial groups, political groups, socioeconomic groups, etc. can each play a role in teachings and subsequent perceptions. In many cases, the groups above can and do overlap. Some people would argue that members of the preceding social groups are likelier to view the United States in either positive or negative manners.

However, other individuals have stated that personal experiences are more prevalent, thus playing a bigger role in how people perceive America. Some have even warned of the dangers of associating various memories with entire groups of people. In politics, this phenomenon is commonly referred to as identity politics.As previously stated, generational differences, political affiliations, upbringing, perceptions, environments, and personal beliefs will each impact how different individuals see the world.

The Manipulation Of Collective Memory


Unfortunately, collective memories can be, and usually are, subject to manipulation. Nine times out of ten, collective memories are (at best) impacted and (at worse) manipulated by people in power who have an agenda. This agenda may involve selling a product or service, spreading a message, or getting a certain candidate elected. The manipulation of collective memories can take place over a variety of time periods and often occurs via media, pandering to certain groups of people, and the like.

The media has an integral impact on collective memories; this is largely why these type of recollections vary across different generations and ages. Various generations watch different commercials, view different movies, and listen to different types of artists and music. This is largely why younger people, on average, tend to view the world differently than people who are twenty and forty years their senior. Media comes in an assortment of forms and is more impactful than some individuals would like to believe.

Collective memory manipulation is at an all-time high in the political world. There are certain thinktanks which are specifically designed to figure out how to appeal to various social groups and their perceived, overall plights. In the United States, Republicans and Democrats are the two leading political factions are facing frequent censure from one another for pandering to various social groups for the sake of earning votes and political capital. The perceptions of Republicans and Democrats varies from person to person. However, both of these political parties attempt to reach out to individuals and social groups who they believe will help them retain and increase power.

Collective memories are often manipulated and extorted in politics when various people in certain social groups are told that they must vote for a certain party. This type of manipulation is nefariously common regarding socioeconomic groups.


Different Americans have various outlooks on whether or not Democrats and Republicans are truly as supportive of various social groups as they claim to be. Some people have stated that both major political parties have made a meal of manipulating collective memories to ensure their gain within the government. Political think tanks also take note of which social groups have historically voted for or otherwise supported certain political parties. This, too, plays a role when election seasons come around.

Is Collective Memory Good Or Bad?

In and of itself, collective memory is neither good or bad, but an inherent part of life. Different social groups do share certain commonalities, but the problem comes into play when collective memories are manipulated or otherwise used to judge or control certain groups of people.

A healthier inverse of collective memory comes in the form of individual memories and thoughts. While each person will always fit into one social group or another, placing a stronger emphasis on unique experiences, thoughts, opinions, and actions is considerably healthier than lumping people together and making collective assumptions. Each is unique and has something to offer. We each have our talents, gifts, and skills regardless of which social groups we fit into.

Another critical point to note is that social groups do not define individual traits or attributes. This is often something which is missed by entities and people who attempt to manipulate collective memories for the sake of controlling social groups. Each is responsible for their own choices, conduct, and outlooks regardless of which collectivist categories they fit into. One of the greatest misconceptions is that people must behave, speak, or think in a certain way according to which social groups they happen to be a part of.

A Final Word

Collective memories are very real. They do exist, and to some extent, they impact certain perceptions and outlooks. However, there are many other factors and variables which can override or even alter previously established collective memories. The individual actions, thoughts, and behaviors are what determines each person's fate and not the social groups which they just so happen to be a part of.


One of the great equalizers between all people and social groups, regardless of collective recollections, is the fact that life comes with ups and downs. Each will experience highs and lows in their lives. No matter how well or poorly someone seems to be doing, there will be good times and bad times. However, connecting with others can help during times of trouble and make people stronger and wiser.

For these reasons, BetterHelp exists as a resource to provide aid and guidance to individuals regardless of what they may be going through in life. Life is unpredictable and full of surprises. Nobody deserves to weather the storms alone. Everyone deserves someone to turn to.

This is why BetterHelp will always be a click away. If you ever feel inclined to contact BetterHelp for any reason, you can do so by clicking here.

Previous Article

Defining The Different Types Of Memory

Next Article

What Can Water Memory Tell Us?
For Additional Help & Support With Your Concerns
Speak with a Licensed Counselor Today
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.