Transactive memory in small, intimate groups: more than the sum of their parts

Amanda J. Barnier*, Louis Klein, Celia B. Harris

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    22 Citations (Scopus)


    Thirty years after social psychologist, Daniel Wegner, pitched a new approach to the study of individual and group behavior, his theory of transactive memory has inspired rich literatures on the cognitive and social lives of small groups, especially in social and organizational domains. We revisit Wegner’s original conceptualization of transactive memory as a feature of long-standing intimate groups, such as romantic couples and other family and friendship groups. We sketch the spread and success of Wegner’s theory across social, organizational, cognitive, and educational domains, noting particular spaces where a renewed focus on intimate groups could add to our vision of transactive memory systems. We review recent interdisciplinary research on couples as socially distributed cognitive systems, which combines influential philosophical views of distributed cognition and the burgeoning experimental memory literature on collaborative recall. We then discuss two core conceptual and methodological challenges of Wegner’s theorizing revealed by intimate and other groups: navigating between memory units, or levels of analysis, and measuring genuine emergence in transactive memory systems. Finally, we suggest an interdisciplinary framework and recommendations for future research on transactive memory in small groups.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)62-97
    Number of pages36
    JournalSmall Group Research
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018


    • collaborative recall
    • distributed cognition
    • intimate groups
    • small groups
    • transactive memory


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