Navigation Links
Do I know you? Memory patterns help us recall the social webs we weave, finds new Cornell study

ITHACA, N.Y. With a dizzying number of ties in our social networks that your Aunt Alice is a neighbor of Muhammad who is married to Natasha who is your wife's boss it's a wonder we remember any of it. How do we keep track of the complexity? We cheat, says a Cornell University sociologist in Scientific Reports (March 21), a publication of Nature.


Humans keep track of social information not by rote memorization but with simplifying rules, as you might remember a number sequence that always increases by two, according to author Matthew Brashears, assistant professor of sociology. People recall social ties that both involve at least three people who know each other and kinship labels such as "aunt" twice as well as they remember ties that do not, even though triad kinship networks are far more complex, he said.

"Humans are able to manage big, sprawling, complicated social networks essentially because we don't remember big, sprawling, complicated social networks. We remember simplified, regular structures that bear a reasonable similarity to what those networks look like," Brashears said. In cases where the relationships don't fit the pattern, we remember the pattern and the few exceptions, instead of remembering all the ties simultaneously, he added.

About 300 study participants read paragraphs describing a group of people and how they relate to each other. Some paragraphs included kinship labels and some didn't. Other paragraphs included closed triads where three people each know each other while other paragraphs did not. The participants were then asked to recall as many of the ties as possible.

When the paragraphs contained both kinship labels and closed triads, the participants' recall improved by 50 percent compared with participants whose paragraphs included neither even though the kinship and triad paragraphs contained nearly twice as many relationships.

"That's a pretty substantial improvement," Brashears said. Moreover, participants did worse when trying to recall paragraphs that had kin relationships but no triads. "It's like trying to remember a random number sequence by using the 'increase by two' rule," he said.

The study helps explain how humans actively manage so many more social ties compared with other primates a key question in the field of sociology. The answer is that we evolved the capacity to spot and use social patterns.

"Our ability to remember and manage socials ties and build bigger groups of people had to do with coming up with new and interesting ways of compressing that information. It's about how we structure our groups and how that allows us to remember them, as opposed to just sheer cognitive horsepower," he said.

The research may help also explain some peculiarities of human networks, such as transitivity: If George is my friend and Susan is my friend, then Susan and George are likely to be friends. Brashears suspects that some social networks are easier to remember than others, and individuals who build groups that conform to those rules were more evolutionarily successful.

"Some of the reasons why human networks look the way they do is because they have to, in order for us to process them, to manage it cognitively," he says.

Medical researchers may benefit from the research as they seek to understand why some people don't grasp social intricacies as well as others. "We may have a better ability to understand social anxiety and autism spectrum if we understand how we're compressing and reconstructing social information using these mechanisms," Brashears said.


Contact: Syl Kacapyr
Cornell University

Related biology news :

1. Tickling the brain with magnetic stimulation improves memory in schizophrenia
2. Novel storage mechanism allows command, control of memory
3. IU discovery on animal memory opens doors to research on memory impairment diseases
4. Finding the way to memory
5. Scientists uncover previously unknown mechanism of memory formation
6. Promising compound restores memory loss and reverses symptoms of Alzheimers
7. In-sync brain waves hold memory of objects just seen
8. Omega-3 intake heightens working memory in healthy young adults
9. Pollen cells keep memory to control jumping genes
10. Brainy beverage: Study reveals how green tea boosts brain cell production to aid memory
11. Researchers discover potential explanation for why a diet high in DHA improves memory
Post Your Comments:
(Date:11/17/2015)... Paris from 17 th until 19 ... from 17 th until 19 th November 2015. ... invented the first combined scanner in the world which scans ... now two different scanners were required: one for passports and ... the same surface. This innovation is an ideal solution for ...
(Date:11/17/2015)... LIVERMORE, Calif. , Nov. 17, 2015  Vigilant ... has joined its Board of Directors. ... Vigilant,s Board after recently retiring from the partnership at ... owning 107 companies with over $140 Billion in revenue.  ... performance improvement across all the TPG companies, from 1997 ...
(Date:11/16/2015)... 16, 2015  Synaptics Inc. (NASDAQ: SYNA ... today announced expansion of its TDDI product portfolio ... controller and display driver integration (TDDI) solutions designed ... new TDDI products add to the previously-announced ... (WQHD resolution), and TD4322 (FHD resolution) solutions. All ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/25/2015)... ... November 25, 2015 , ... A long-standing partnership between ... (OPBAP) has been formalized with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding. , ... leaders Capt. Karl Minter and Capt. Albert Glenn Tuesday, November 24, 2015, at ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... November 24, 2015 , ... The United States Golf Association ... 2016 USGA Green Section Award. Presented annually since 1961, the USGA Green Section Award ... work with turfgrass. , Clarke, of Iselin, N.J., is an extension specialist ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... , ... November 24, 2015 , ... ... of the year and one of the premier annual events for pharmaceutical manufacturing: ... from 8–11 November 2015, where ISPE hosted the largest number of attendees in ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... 24, 2015 , ... The Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), led by its ... as Multirotor Grand Prix, to represent the First–Person View (FPV) racing community. , FPV ... embraced this type of racing and several new model aviation pilots have joined the ...
Breaking Biology Technology: