Coman's research on collective memory formation suggests antidotes to propagation of "fake news"

Sunday, Mar 12, 2017
by lesliej

Recent concerns over the development of Internet-based information, such as so-called "fake news" sites, focuses interest on psychological research on collective memory formation and its vulnerability to distortion.  Related work on collective memory by affiliated faculty member Alin Coman is discussed in a March 2017 news feature in Nature.

In 2012, Coman's work on paired communicators suggested that a speaker can reinforce certain aspects of an event by repeating those aspects. Things that get mentioned get remembered and those that do not get forgotten.  This seems to hold within larger social networks, as well.  Coman and collaborators have shown that people experience more induced forgetting when listening to someone in their own social group than out-group members.  Their latest research looks at links between, rather than within, networks and notes that "weak links" between networks are likely what drive the formation of community-wide collective memories.

The Nature review reports on Coman's suggestions for applying these findings, which he believes have implications for  justice system reform and the diffusion of crucial information to the public during emergencies such as epidemics.

The article "How Facebook, fake news and friends are warping your memory," by Laura Spinney is available on the Nature website.

Coman's article "Mnemonic convergence in social networks: The emergent properties of cognition at a collective level" was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Vol. 113, No. 29, 8171-8176).