Mnemonic Transmission, Social Contagion, and Emergence of Collective Memory: Influence of Emotional Valence, Group Structure, and Information Distribution

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Social transmission of memory and its consequence on collective memory have generated enduring interdisciplinary interest because of their widespread significance in interpersonal, sociocultural, and political arenas. We tested the influence of 3 key factors—emotional salience of information, group structure, and information distribution—on mnemonic transmission, social contagion, and collective memory. Participants individually studied emotionally salient (negative or positive) and nonemotional (neutral) picture–word pairs that were completely shared, partially shared, or unshared within participant triads, and then completed 3 consecutive recalls in 1 of 3 conditions: individual–individual–individual (control), collaborative–collaborative (identical group; insular structure)–individual, and collaborative–collaborative (reconfigured group; diverse structure)–individual. Collaboration enhanced negative memories especially in insular group structure and especially for shared information, and promoted collective forgetting of positive memories. Diverse group structure reduced this negativity effect. Unequally distributed information led to social contagion that creates false memories; diverse structure propagated a greater variety of false memories whereas insular structure promoted confidence in false recognition and false collective memory. A simultaneous assessment of network structure, information distribution, and emotional valence breaks new ground to specify how network structure shapes the spread of negative memories and false memories, and the emergence of collective memory.

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