Forgotten remembrances
February 24, 2012 12:07 AM   Subscribe

Help me locate an article on divorce and memory loss.

A few years ago I read an article that was about, or at least mentioned, the effects of divorce on memory. I believe the article was in the New York Times, but my memory is so fuzzy now (go figure) that I'm not even certain of that anymore. I digging around for any reference to the article, I found this paragraph I wrote about it, a few years ago:

"Consider a recent article in the New York Times that explored the relationship between memory and divorce. The article interviewed a number of recently divorced couples, many of whom spoke of problems remembering basic facts such as phone numbers and addresses after separating. An initial hypothesis might be put forth that the stress of divorce caused the memory loss – but while stress tends to affect short-term memory and the formation of new memories, it has less of an effect on information already encoded into long-term storage. Instead, the article poses that each member of the marriage uses the spouse as an external memory bank – a division-of-labor approach to memory in which the responsibility of knowledge was implicitly divided between the couple."

I've often referenced this article when talking about the externalization of memory, but now I can't find the original source. Thus far, google and other searches have yielded bupkiss. Do any of you lovely folks know what/where this article actually is?
posted by TheRoach to Society & Culture (4 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I know what you're talking about, and I'm pretty sure I even know the article you mean, but I can't seem to find it either. Here's what I did find:

Wikipedia on "transactive memory", which is apparently what this is called.

A paper on "Transactive Memory in Close Relationships"
posted by cardioid at 12:47 AM on February 24, 2012

Best answer: Malcolm Gladwell talks about exactly this in The Tipping Point, which might have been what you read:
This is what University of Virginia psychologist Daniel Wegner calls "transitive memory" [...] Perhaps most important, though, we store information with other people. Couples do this automatically. A few years ago, for example, Wegner set up a memory test with 59 couples, all of whom had been dating for at least three months. Half of the couples were allowed to stay together, and half were split up, and given a new partner whom they didn't know. Wegner then asked all the pairs to read 64 statements, each with an underlined word, like "Midori is a Japanese melon liqueur." Five minutes after looking at all the statements, the pairs were asked to write down as many as they could remember. Sure enough, the pairs who knew each other remembered substantially more items than those who didn't know each other. Wegner argues that when people know each other well, they create an implicit joint memory system — a transactive memory system — which is based on an understanding about who is best suited to remember what kinds of things. "Relationship development is often understood as a process of mutual self-disclosure," he writes. "Although it is probably more romantic to cast this process as one of interpersonal revelation and acceptance, it can also be appreciated as a necessary precursor to transactive memory." Transactive memory is part of what intimacy means. In fact, Wegner argues, it is the loss of this kind of joint memory that helps to make divorce so painful. "Divorced people who suffer depression and complain of cognitive dysfunction may be expressing the loss of their external memory systems," he writes. "They once were able to discuss their experiences to reach a shared understanding. .. . They once could count on access to a wide range of storage in their partner, and this, too, is gone.... The loss of transactive memory feels like losing a part of one's own mind." (p. 186-7)
If you want to chase up his sources, here are his endnotes:

Daniel Wegner, "Transactive Memory in Close Relationships." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (1991), vol. 61, no. 6, pp. 923-929. Another good discussion of the issue is: Daniel Wegner, "Transactive Memory: A Contemporary Analysis of the Group Mind," in Brian Mullen and George Goethals (eds.). Theories of Group Behavior (New York: Springer Verlag. 1987), pp. 200-201.
posted by mayhap at 12:50 AM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow, thank you both. I have read The Tipping Point, so it's quite possible that some wires got crossed in my brain. There's something pleasantly amusing in the idea that my brain, when bored, invents phantom New York Times articles.
posted by TheRoach at 10:15 AM on February 24, 2012

It could be that Gladwell also wrote something about this in the New Yorker. In my previous answer I was going to ask if you were sure it was a New Yorker article, then noticed you say New York Times and decided to skip the question altogether.
posted by cardioid at 6:57 PM on February 24, 2012

« Older Where to start with teaching a bright 13 year-old...   |   Help me find these old whaling journals Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.