Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Do i know you? Memory patterns help us recall the social webs we weave

Date:
March 21, 2013
Source:
Cornell University
Summary:
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 sociologist.

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.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cornell University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Matthew E. Brashears. Humans use Compression Heuristics to Improve the Recall of Social Networks. Scientific Reports, 2013; 3 DOI: 10.1038/srep01513

Cite This Page:

Cornell University. "Do i know you? Memory patterns help us recall the social webs we weave." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 March 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130321131944.htm>.
Cornell University. (2013, March 21). Do i know you? Memory patterns help us recall the social webs we weave. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130321131944.htm
Cornell University. "Do i know you? Memory patterns help us recall the social webs we weave." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130321131944.htm (accessed April 25, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Friday, April 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Could Marijuana Use Lead To Serious Heart Problems?

Could Marijuana Use Lead To Serious Heart Problems?

Newsy (Apr. 24, 2014) A new study says marijuana use could lead to serious heart-related complications. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Study Says Most Crime Not Linked To Mental Illness

Study Says Most Crime Not Linked To Mental Illness

Newsy (Apr. 22, 2014) A new study finds most crimes committed by people with mental illness are not caused by symptoms of their illness or disorder. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Smaller Plates And Cutlery Could Make You Feel Fuller

How Smaller Plates And Cutlery Could Make You Feel Fuller

Newsy (Apr. 22, 2014) NBC's "Today" conducted an experiment to see if changing the size of plates and utensils affects the amount individuals eat. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Do We Get Nicer With Age?

Do We Get Nicer With Age?

Newsy (Apr. 22, 2014) A recent report claims personality can change over time as we age, and usually that means becoming nicer and more emotionally stable. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins