Collaborative remembering can harm individual participants' short-term memory

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Collaborative remembering refers to groups of people such as hiring committees, juries, or study groups working together to recall information in order to make decisions. It’s something that comes up quite often in everyday life, but might not seem like it. It’s also a double-edged sword.

A study by researchers from the University of Liverpool and the University of Ontario have found that groups recall information more poorly than individuals, but that collaborative remembering can boost later individual remembering.

Everybody has their own preferred, though likely subconscious, method of recalling information. As people call out the things they remember about a case or a potential employee, it disrupts other people’s recall, meaning that they recall less and the group underperforms.

However, there are some caveats to this as well. Small groups work better at collaborative remembering because they tend to have fewer competing modes of recall, while families and friends work even better because people who spend a lot of time together tend to develop similar methods of recall.

The study also found that people who participated in groups of any size or kind had better recall later on, when working on their own.

How can you use this fascinating new information to your advantage in the workplace? First, understand that a group of four people won’t recall things as well as those four people working individually. Consider splitting the team up to individually decide on a new hire, for example.

Bear in mind that the best-performing groups are going to be small teams of people who know each other well, so use some of the team-building strategies you’ve developed over the years and let friends and long-term co-workers work together.

Instead of always using teams for the full length of a project, have people work in groups and then subsequently alone, as this will improve their recall in the long run.