'I remember where the galaxies are and you remember where the stocks are': older couples' descriptions of transactive memory systems in everyday life

Sophia A. Harris*, Amanda J. Barnier, Celia B. Harris

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Theoretical descriptions of transactive memory systems (TMSs) have postulated that intimate couples develop coordinated systems for sharing and distributing cognitive labour. Although such systems have been well-studied in research on organisational teams, little research has examined how TMSs operate in the context of intimate relationships. In the current study, we used semi-structured interviews to ask 39 older long-married couples to describe how they shared cognitive labour between them. We used qualitative analysis to examine themes relating to specialisation, credibility, and coordination – the key components of successful TMSs identified in organisational teams. We found that couples described their everyday memory sharing practices in ways that reflected these themes, with our findings revealing nuanced descriptions of sources of specialisation and the division of memory labour in relationships, as well as the impacts of ageing and cognitive decline on couples’ TMSs. We discuss these findings in terms of applications of transactive memory theory to intimate relationships, couples as a dyadic unit of analysis, and the role of intimate relationships in adapting to age-related change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2323-2348
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Social and Personal Relationships
Volume40
Issue number7
Early online dateDec 2022
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2023

Keywords

  • interdependence
  • memory
  • older couples
  • relationships
  • transactive memory

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