What Can Transactive Memory Tell Us?

Updated March 09, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Laura Angers

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There are many different theories when it comes to how our memories work, and they are all worth reading. Our understanding of the brain still isn't full; the brain still has plenty of mysteries that we need to unravel if we want to know the most about ourselves as possible. Today, we will look at one theory that is quite intriguing. And that is a transactive memory.

What Is Transactive Memory?

When it comes to relationships, there are plenty of functions that keep it growing strong. One such function is the ability to share information. If you need to find information, you may ask your friend for help, or someone you know who an expert is. By information, we are talking about anything that you can learn. The information you need may be how to change a tire, what your friend was doing the night before, or their opinion on the news.

Those who have relationships need to learn, remember, and then share the information that they have. Some people are responsible for certain types of information. In a job, a person may be assigned to look up data, while another person is researching marketing. The two people may need to talk to each other, as their work does intertwine. For example, the one doing the marketing may need infographic data to have the most effective marketing strategy possible. Instead of the marketing person trying to learn how to read data, they ask the data person.

This is a system of sharing knowledge, and it's quite powerful. The system that shares knowledge in a group where everyone has a different area of knowledge is what is known as transactive memory.

History Of The Concept

In 1985, the idea of transactive memory was first proposed by Daniel Wegner. The proposal that was the idea of two people who spend time together and are co-workers are creating a shared network of knowledge between the two of them. One person was the information storage, and the other was the one who asked about the information, making the person then recall it if asked.

The concept was quite different. This is because it depicted a situation where people had different information, and they would often talk to each other, or do transactions, to help the other person. The theory of transactive memory is that of a process. It's heavily structured, and it's divided into three processes to make the job easier. These are encoding, storage, and retrieval. We will talk about all three processes in a bit. These processes were first created by Wegner, who believes that these processes will help people form new bonds and keep the process going.

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There have been some experiments on the concept of transactive memory. One looked at romantic partners. These partners both had transactive memory. They performed much better when it came to recalling knowledge. A couple can work together to memorize more information than two strangers can, and this shows how any relationship works together to have as much memory as possible.

This is because couples know how each other work. They know the best ways to talk to each other and let the other person learn. They know what the other person knows quite well, and they won't need to memorize something their spouse knows. This puts less burden on both parties. Meanwhile, two strangers lack the shared knowledge a couple has. This can mean that they will have poorer performance. Ever had to do a group project with a bunch of strangers? It isn't fun, and one of the reasons is because you don't know what the other person knows.

The Process Of Transactive Memory

As mentioned before, there are three processes of transactive memory. These are encoding, storage, and retrieval. The information is always updated as new info comes out and as people share the information they have with one another.


First, there's the encoding stage. This is when a person receives knowledge of the other person's specialty. They will then categorize it. They do this by ascribing the domain of knowledge towards the person who corresponds the most with it. This can come in the form of a who did what situation. Encoding is quite important in the overall development of your transactive memory. It requires different people to interact with each other and share what knowledge they know. Then, they can seek information from other people.


As you probably know, storing is when the information is kept, and it's kept with the person who is an expert on the subject. When new experts are identified, the information is transferred, and this helps everyone learn and means that there is overall less storage amongst one person. When everyone has the information, the burden of storage is not that strong.


Finally, there's the retrieval stage. This is when a person in the group uses the memory they've developed to find a person who specializes in the needed knowledge. Then, they go to that person and retrieve the information. If the information they have is correct and useful, the link between the two people grows stronger. However, if the information they have is incorrect, then the entire process starts again. The information that is accurate has to be re-encoded, after all. This allows everyone to share information once again.

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The Components Of Transactive Memory

Here are some components of transactive memory.


First, we have the formation of a transactive memory system that is strong. This is done when a group has information about a certain subject that the other people in the group will use to exchange ideas of knowledge. When someone in the group understands what the other person in the group knows, they then can exchange information with the other people in the group. This is one of the reasons why a transactive memory system is so beneficial. There is less chance of overlap, making it as efficient as it possibly can be. Someone in the team can learn more about the information they are lacking, and then they can exchange what they know that the other person doesn't. When specialization happens in the group, the group is much more organized and can get the job done much better. When everyone knows what their specialty is, it keeps the machine going.


Now, let's look at coordination. This is when the necessity has to be looked at. When there needs to be an effort to plan and coordinate, how much does it have to be? If a team has a linked transactive memory system that is powerful, there is less need to build up a coordination effort. Everyone knows what they can and can't do. Groups that do have a strong transactive memory can easily work with one another to solve their tasks. Meanwhile, a weak transactive memory group makes it harder to coordinate.


Now, let's look at credibility. This is when the information the person has is as true as it possibly can be. Plenty of people have information. The problem is that much information is inaccurate. Sometimes, it comes from a hoax. Other times, it's an exaggerated truth. When someone tells you something, and you learn it's false, you lose trust in that person. However, if they are credible, you will rely on them again and again for information that you don't know.

The ideal transactive system is one where everyone has information that is credible to the best extent. If someone has information that ends up being false, the person shouldn't double down, but instead be self-correcting. It's okay to admit that you don't know everything and that you were wrong.

In Conclusion

Transactive memory is an interesting way to explain how groups of people work together to achieve a goal. Sometimes, they will be people in a work environment. Other times, they can be two lovers who teach each other different things. Think about your transactive systems. How accurate is everyone? How can we strive to work better? By improving your transactive system, you can be the best people you can be. Give it a try sometime. Improve yourself.

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Seek Help!

If you are having trouble with your memory, or want to relieve yourself of traumatic memories, there is no shame in speaking to a counselor for help. Or, if you want to improve your teamwork with others, a counselor can help with that as well. A counselor specializes in the human condition. There is a lot about the brain we don't know about, but we know enough to help people with their memories.

A good memory is a special thing to have, especially as you age. When you're older, and you're mentally sharp, you'll realize just how well of a life you have lived, and that's all thanks to your ability to keep your brain going. Talk to a therapist today and see what they can do for you.

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