Volume 15 - Part 12 - (December 2002)
Are two heads better than one?
...Or do too many cooks spoil the broth? Rebecca Thompson investigates collaborative memory.
The common adages ‘Two heads are better than one’, ‘Many hands make light work’ and ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth’ highlight interesting patterns of human behaviour. They suggest that the presence of others sometimes facilitates performance, sometimes hinders it. The field of social psychology has long been interested in the effects that the presence of others has on the performance of an individual: classic studies on conformity (Asch, 1956) and obedience (Milgram, 1963) demonstrate the detrimental effects that can occur in social situations.
However, it is only fairly recently that cognitive psychologists have begun to embrace the idea that the presence of others may have a significant impact on an individual’s cognitive processes. Traditional cognitive research, in particular memory research, has focused on testing individual participants. This approach supports the view that cognitive processes occur in the individual mind. Research using this ‘individual methodology’ has provided cognitive psychology with invaluable models of the processes involved in human memory and learning. But the predominant use of lone participants in memory research ignores the potential influence of social interactions on performance. This is the topic of collaborative-memory research.