Jeremy Koyei Yamashiro

My research program examines social remembering.

Email: jkyamashiro@wustl.edu
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Rather than simply being a matter of storage and retrieval, communicative acts of remembering respond to a variety of motives, which influence what is mentioned and what is silenced; such selective remembering inevitably alters memory for both speakers and listeners (Meade & Roediger, 2002; Hirst & Echterhoff, 2012). These social frames of remembering are especially evident when recalling collective memories. Collective memories, from a psychological perspective, are memories or historical knowledge held by individuals, which bear on their group identity (Hirst, Yamashiro, & Coman, 2018; Roediger & Wertsch, 2008; Hirst & Manier, 2008). Social frames and cultural schemata influence what is rendered meaningful and remembered, or meaningless and forgotten (Hirst & Yamashiro, 2017). A social perspective on remembering entails a shift from the traditional cognitive psychological priorities of encoding, storage, and retrieval within the head of an individual, to how remembering functions in interactions between people, and how remembering as a member of a social group changes how people recall the past. In my research, these psychological approaches to collective memory may be divided into two methodological camps. The first examines how humans in communication come to remember in the same way – more technically, the socio-cognitive mechanisms underlying mnemonic convergence. The other camp examines social representations of history, and explores how various group affiliations and moral profiles may impact how such memories vary within different sub-communities.My first inquiry examining memory in social frames was a naturalistic study drawing on the epidemiological literature on extended influence in social networks (Christakis & Fowler, 2009). Yamashiro and Hirst (2014) examined whether social influences on remembering could propagate along the lines of social networks. We showed that when a group of students spoke to one another about a rich narrative over the course of two weeks, memory protocols would converge not just between people who had spoken to one another, as might be expected, but also between people who had never spoken; this indirect influence only occurred if participants had a path linking them through the social network.

Yamashiro and Hirst (2014) addressed how communicating groups might spontaneously converge on shared memories. However, much of the collective memory literature has concerned how elites and memory activists try to shape a certain version of the collective past (e.g. Wertsch, 2002; Harris, 2006; Armstrong & Crage, 2006). Such centralized speakers present selective renderings of the past to large audiences, who may already know something about the topic at hand. A critical question is when can central speakers reshape the memories of a listening public, inducing forgetting for silenced material, increasing accessibility for mentioned material, and when will a listening public resist such influence? In a study utilizing a central speaker presenting a selective message to a looped serial transmission chain, Yamashiro & Hirst (2018) showed that communicative remembering distributed through a group amplified the forgetting a central speaker was able to induce, relative to non-communicating nominal groups. Communicative groups additionally converged with one another in their memory for the material to a greater extent than nominal groups. This convergence was due to both shared practice effects and socially-shared retrieval induced forgetting (SSRIF) distributed throughout the communicating chain. These effects were amplified when the speaker was perceived as an ingroup member, and attenuated when he was perceived as an outgroup member.

My postdoctoral work has taken a different approach to collective memory. Rather than focusing on basic cognitive factors that afford mnemonic convergence during communicative remembering, I have examined social representations of history. Collective memory differs from academic, analytic history in that it shows people constructing the past from a committed perspective, which is intolerant of ambiguity (Novick, 2000). This typically entails retelling a group’s past in terms of simple, moralized narratives. My current projects examine how people remember national collective memories. How do people remember national origin stories, what Hilton and Liu (2017) have called foundational “charters,” and how is this memory for national origins biased by membership in sub-national communities (Yamashiro, Van Engen, & Roediger, 2018)? How do moral values influence how people remember their group’s collective contribution to history (Churchill, Yamashiro, & Roediger, 2018)? What sort of implicit schemata or cultural narrative tools do people recruit when imagining emotional trajectories for their group across time – e.g. progress or decadence – from the collective past to the collective future (Yamashiro & Roediger, 2018; Szpunar & Szpunar, 2016; Merck, Topçu, & Hirst, 2016)?

My research program can be characterized by experimental work on general socio-cognitive mechanisms by which groups might converge on shared memories, and cognitively based studies of cultural memories and collective future thought. Much work on memory since the beginning of the cognitive revolution has adopted a position of “methodological solipsism” (Fodor, 1991), in which cognitive operations entirely internal to the mind/brain were felt to be the proper object of study for cognitive psychologists. Social, cultural, and emotional elements to cognition were intentionally de-emphasized (Gardner, 1985). My research program takes seriously older perspectives advanced by scholars such as Bartlett, Halbwachs, and Vygotsky, in which memory, rather than being merely the encoding, storage, and retrieval of information, occurring within the brain of an isolated individual, is accomplished socially, in interactions between people. Such socially framed remembering appropriates cultural schemata and cognitive tools such as narrative templates. Memory emerges in interactions shaped by moral and relational motives. Indeed, if, as many scholars have argued (e.g. Mahr & Csibras, 2018; Fagin, Yamashiro, & Hirst, 2013; Bluck, Alea, Rubin, & Habermas, 2005; Cosmides & Tooby, 1992), a primary selective pressure shaping human memory over the course of our evolution was the need to maintain complex social relationships, a complete program of memory research must incorporate a functional focus on relational motives and morality, particularly domains of morality that motivate people to bind together in strong, emotionally compelling groups. And finally, such a complete program must center remembering as a social, communicational activity.

Publications

Yamashiro, J., and Hirst, W. (in review). Convergence on collective memories: Central speakers and distributed remembering.

Yamashiro, J., and Hirst, W. (in review) Retrieval induced forgetting in emotional stories: Impacts on retelling and emotional intensity

Hirst, W., Yamashiro, J., and Coman, A. (in press). Collective memory from a psychological perspective. Trends in Cognitive Sciences.

Hirst, W. and Yamashiro, J. (2017). Social aspects of forgetting. In M.L. Meade, A. Barnier, P. Van Bergen, C. Harris, & J. Sutton (Eds.). Collective Remembering: How Remembering with Others Influences Memory. NY: Cambridge University Press.

Yamashiro, J. (2015). The brain basis of Samadhi: neurological correlates of meditative absorption. New School Psychology Bulletin, 13(1), 1-10.

Yamashiro, J., and Hirst, W. (2014). Mnemonic convergence in a social network: Collective memory and extended influence. Journal for Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 3(4), 272-279. DOI 10.1016/j.jarmac.2014.08.001

Fagin, M., Yamashiro, J., and Hirst, W. (2013). The adaptive function of distributed remembering: Contributions to the formation of collective memory. Review of Philosophy and Psychology 4(1), 91-106. DOI 10.1007/s13164-012-0127-y

Work in Progress

Yamashiro, J., and Roediger, H.L., III (in prep). Emotional trajectories from national origins to the collective future: Political and Religious divides.

Roediger, H.L. III, and Yamashiro, J. (in prep). History of empirical approaches to studying memory. Invited book chapter in B. Sternberg and W. Pickren (Eds.), Handbook of the Intellectual History of Psychology: How Psychological Ideas Have Evolved from Past to Present. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Yamashiro, J., van Engen, A., and Roediger, H.L. III. (in prep). American origins: Community specific collective memories of the nation.

Churchill, L., Yamashiro, J., and Roediger, H.L. III. (in prep). Binding values predict state narcissism.

Balota, D., Yamashiro, J., and Roediger, H.L. III (in prep). Highly superior memory in competitive memory champions: Tournament crossword puzzlers and Jeopardy! contestants.

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