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Transactive memory

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Title: Transactive memory  
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Subject: Memory, Organizational psychology, Team, Decay theory, Selective amnesia
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Transactive memory

Transactive memory is a psychological hypothesis first proposed by [1] a memory system that is more complex and potentially more effective than that of any of its individual constituents. A transactive memory system includes memory stored in each individual, the interactions between memory within the individuals, as well as the processes that update this memory. Transactive memory, on the other hand, is merely the shared store of knowledge.

According to Wegner, a transactive memory system consists of the knowledge stored in each individual's memory combined with metamemory containing information regarding the different teammate's domains of expertise.[2] Just as an individual's metamemory allows him to be aware of what information is available for retrieval, so does the transactive memory system provide teammates with information regarding the knowledge they have access to within the group.[3] Group members learn who knowledge experts are and how to access expertise through communicative processes. In this way, a transactive memory system can provide the group members with more and better knowledge than any individual could access on his own.


  • History 1
  • Transactive processes for the development of transactive memory systems 2
    • Encoding 2.1
    • Storage 2.2
    • Retrieval 2.3
  • Development of transactive memory 3
  • Indicators of transactive memory 4
    • Specialization 4.1
    • Coordination 4.2
    • Credibility 4.3
  • Transactive memory and team performance 5
  • Extensions to other domains 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9


Transactive memory was first envisioned by Daniel Wegner in 1985.[1] This concept proposed that when two individuals spend a lot of time around each other and working together, they create a shared store of knowledge between the members. In essence, one member of the couple could store information within their partner and then recall that information by asking their partner about it. This concept was different and unique from other descriptions of

  • Transactive Memory Theory

External links

  • Schakel, Jan-Kees (2013). "Organizing distributed knowledge for action: structure, functioning, and emergence of organizational transactive memory systems". 
  • Lewis, Kyle; Herndon, B. (2011). "Transactive memory systems: Current issues and future research directions". Organization Science 22 (5): 1254–1265.  
  • Ren, Yuquing; Argote, L. (2011). "Transactive Memory Systems 1985–2010: An Integrative Framework of Key Dimensions, Antecedents, and Consequences". The Academy of Management Annals 5 (1): 189–229.  
  • Wegner, D. M.; Erber, R.; Raymond, P. (1991). "Transactive memory in close relationships".  
  • Wegner, D. M. (1995). "A computer network model of human transactive memory". Social Cognition 13 (3): 1–21.  

Further reading

  1. ^ a b c Wegner, D. M., Giuliano, T., & Hertel, P. (1985). Cognitive interdependence in close relationships. In W. J. Ickes (Ed.), Compatible and incompatible relationships (pp. 253-276). New York: Springer-Verlag.
  2. ^ a b c Wegner, D. M. (1995). "A computer network model of human transactive memory". Social Cognition 13 (3): 319–339.  
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Wegner, D. M. (1986). Transactive memory: A contemporary analysis of the group mind. In B.Mullen & G. R. Goethals (Eds.), Theories of group behavior (pp. 185–205). New York: Springer-Verlag
  4. ^ a b Lewis, Kyle; Herndon, B. (2011). "Transactive memory systems: Current issues and future research directions". Organization Science 22 (5): 1254–1265.  
  5. ^ a b c Ren, Yuquing; Argote, L. (2011). "Transactive Memory Systems 1985–2010: An Integrative Framework of Key Dimensions, Antecedents, and Consequences". The Academy of Management Annals 5 (1): 189–229.  
  6. ^ a b Hollingshead, A.B. (1998b). "Retrieval processes in transactive memory systems". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 74 (3): 659–671.  
  7. ^ Hollingshead, A. (2001). "Cognitive interdependence and convergent expectations in transactive memory". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 81 (6): 1080–1089.  
  8. ^ a b Liang, D. W.; Moreland, R. L.; Argote, L. (1995). "Group versus individual training and group performance: The mediating role of transactive memory". Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 21 (4): 384–393.  
  9. ^ a b Rulke, D.; Rau, D. (2000). "Investigating the Encoding Process of Transactive Memory Development in Group Training". Group & Organization Management 25 (4): 373–396.  
  10. ^ Moreland, R. L.; Argote, L.; Krishnan, R. (1986). "Socially shared cognition at work: Transactive memory and group performance". In Nye, J.; Brower, A. What's social about social cognition? Research on socially shared cognition in small groups. Thousand Parks. pp. 57–84. 
  11. ^ a b Cannon-Bowers, J. A., Salas, E., & Converse, S. A. (1993). Shared mental models in expert team decision making. In N. J. Castellan, Jr. (Ed.), Current issues in individual and group decision making (pp.221–246).Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum
  12. ^ Hinsz, V. B.; Tindale, R. S.; Vollrath, DA (1997). "The emerging conceptualization of groups as information processors". Psychological Bulletin 121 (1): 43–64.  
  13. ^ a b Hollingshead, A. B. (1998a). Distributed knowledge and Transactive processes in groups. In M. A.Neale,E.A.Mannix, and D.H.Gruenfeld (Eds.), Research on managing groups and teams (Vol.1). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press
  14. ^ Moreland R.L and Myaskovsky L. (2000). Exploring the Performance Benefits of Group Training: Transactive Memory or Improved Communication? Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes Vol. 82, No. 1, 117–133.
  15. ^ Ilgen, D.R.; Hollenbeck, J.R.; Johnson, M.; Jundt, D. (2005). "Teams in organizations: From I-P-O Models to IMOI models". Annual Review of Psychology 56: 517–543.  
  16. ^ a b c d e f Lewis, K. (2003). "Measuring Transactive Memory Systems in the Field: Scale Development and Validation". Journal of Applied Psychology 88 (4): 587–604.  
  17. ^ Austin, J. (2003). "Transactive memory in organizational groups: The effects of content, consensus, specialization, and accuracy in group performance". Journal of Applied Psychology 88 (5): 866–878.  
  18. ^ Austin, J. R. (2003). "Transactive memory in organizational groups: The effects of content, consensus, specialization, and accuracy on group performance". Journal of Applied Psychology 88 (5): 866–878.  
  19. ^ Cannon-Bowers, J.A.; Salas, E. (2001). "Reflections on shared cognition". Journal of Organizational Behavior 22 (2): 195–202.  
  20. ^ Stasser, G.; Stewart, D. D.; Wittenbaum, G. M. (1995). "Expert roles and information exchange during discussion: The importance of knowing who knows what". Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 31 (3): 244–265.  
  21. ^ Michinov, E.; Olivier-Chiron, E.; Rusch, E.; Chiron, B. (2008). "Influence of transactive memory on perceived performance, job satisfaction and identification in anesthesia teams". British Journal of Anaesthesia 100 (3): 327–332.  
  22. ^ Moreland, R. L. (1999). Transactive memory: Learning who knows what in work groups and organizations. In L. Thompson, D. Messick, &J. Levine (Eds.), Shared cognition in organizations: The management of knowledge (pp. 3–31). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum
  23. ^ Sparrow, Betsy; Liu, Jenny; Wegner, Daniel M. (14 June 2011). "Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips". Science 333 (6043): 776–8.  
  24. ^ Schakel, Jan-Kees (2013). Organizing distributed knowledge for action: the structure, functioning, and emergence of organizational transactive memory systems. Retrieved 11 October 2013. 


When transactive memory was first envisioned, the authors were describing an external memory store within other people. They did acknowledge that we often store information within objects such as notebooks, books, or other recordings. These objects are static and transactive processes cannot occur. These objects, therefore, cannot cue memories within individuals in the same way another person could. The Internet, however, is much more dynamic than a book and individuals can engage in similar transactive processes as they would with other individuals. Research published in the journal Science on 14 July 2011 suggests that when people expect to have future access to information, they have lower rates of recall of the information, but higher rates of recall of the sources of the information.[23] The authors suggest that this research demonstrates that individuals are developing a transactive memory system with the Internet, relying on it for information instead of internalizing it within their own memories. To explain how external memory stores are related to transactive memory systems, Schakel (2013)[24] described them as external artifacts which may either (be used to) influence or represent the ostensive or performative aspects of transactive memory systems.

Extensions to other domains

For these reasons, groups performing tasks that can't be broken apart or require little specialization may not get much benefit out of the development of a transactive memory system. The authors suggest that tasks where ideas have to be executed and all members have the same goal will benefit the most from a transactive memory system. Conversely the authors suggest that groups that engage in brainstorming or decision tasks may develop transactive memory systems faster than those merely executing ideas because there is more knowledge sharing and interaction between members.

  • Tasks that require diverse knowledge.
  • Tasks that require a deep understanding of specialized knowledge.
  • Tasks where the credibility and accuracy of information is important.
  • Tasks where it is possible to know which members possess expertise.
  • Tasks that require a complete application of knowledge to the task.
  • Tasks where efficient coordination between members is important.

Transactive memory may not be helpful for all kinds of groups or all kinds of work. Lewis and Herndon (2011) suggested criteria for kinds of tasks that a developed transactive memory system will be the most helpful in improving the performance of.

• The shared understanding of the teammates regarding the interpersonal relations in the team and the different expertise domains, enables them to better predict and anticipate how their team colleagues would behave, leading to well coordinated and efficient interactions.[11]

• Developing transactive memory system will shorten the time needed for seeking the appropriate knowledge: when each team member knows who to turn to for the required information, less time is wasted in search for relevant task knowledge.[3]

• Division of the responsibility on different kinds of knowledge across the teammates allows each one of them to broaden his own knowledge in a specific area while maintaining access to relevant required task knowledge possessed by others.[3]

Transactive memory may enhance performance through three major mechanisms:[16][22]

. knowledge work Transactive memory is composed of specialized knowledge and understanding of who has that knowledge, but benefits are not limited to just groups that engage in a lot of [21] influencing the [20] improving decision making processes,[19] The existence of a transactive memory system within a group allows for quick access to a large amount of knowledge, improving information integration processes,

Transactive memory and team performance

'Credibility' reflects the extent to which the team members believe that the relevant task knowledge possessed by any of the other team members is correct and accurate.[16] When groups that developed a transactive memory system, they will have gone through the encoding, storing, retrieval process several times for information. As new information is brought to the group’s attention it can be evaluated and then reencoded into the transactive memory system. If a member’s area of expertise has been used several times without issue, then other group members will begin to see the group member’s knowledge as more credible (wegner 1987).[16] If a group has a well-developed transactive memory system, all members within the group would be seen as credible.


Coordination refers to the extent of necessity in explicit revealed planning and coordinating efforts during teamwork.[18] When a group possesses a strong transactive memory system, the need for explicit coordination efforts reduces since teammates are aware of other teammates strengths and weaknesses, can anticipate their behavior and responds, and make quick adjustments of their own behavior in return.[2] In groups that have developed a transactive memory, members are able to easily coordinate with one another and can go directly to those with expertise if they need their information.


A strong transactive memory system is achieved when the group gains information about the knowledge repertoire that all other teammates hold and use this information in order to acquire different complementary knowledge.[16] Once members within the group have a good understanding of who knows what within the group, they can begin to differentiate in their knowledge. This differentiation of knowledge is where the real benefit of a transactive memory system is enacted because, with less overlap in member’s areas of expertise, distribution of labor becomes easier and the group can become more efficient (Wegner 1987). When each team member can deepen his knowledge in any areas that are lacking (as opposed to acquiring congruent knowledge) they will enlarge the teams' total collective knowledge.[16] Hollingshead (1998a) demonstrated that specialization lead to a more efficient and organized effort investment in information retrieval, prevention of information redundancy and supplied accessibility to larger range of expertise.[13]


Many researchers consider the basic components of transactive memory system to be specialization, coordination and credibility.[15] This is a common misconception of how transactive memory systems operate within groups.[4] These indicators of TMS occur after a group has established a transactive memory system and are due to the existence of transactive memory within the group. Because these three factors occur more prevalently in groups that have developed a TMS, they are often measured as a proxy for measuring the exact transactive memory system. The most prevalent measure of transactive memory[5] as developed by Kyle Lewis [16] measures these three components as indicators that a group has developed a transactive memory. Other measures, namely Austin’s [17] attempts to measure the perceptions of expertise within the group as a more direct measure of transactive memory.

Indicators of transactive memory

Moreland & Myaskovsky (2000) showed that transactive memory can be developed without any interaction between teammates. As a substitute to teammates' communication they provided group members feedback ranking team members' skills in the relevant task domains before they started performing the task. Although the feedback and the information regarding teammates knowledge was provided by the researchers and teammates did not communicate with each other beforehand, this information positively affected the team's transactive memory score and performance.[14] This experiment demonstrated that the sharing specific information regarding team members' knowledge and domains of expertise formation is necessary for transactive memory development, either through direct interaction or by another means of information transformation.

Hence, it seems that communication serves as a crucial component in the development of transactive memory. Yet, it seems that not any kind of communication and interaction between team members will bring to the construction of transactive memory. Communication, in general serves as a way of transferring information from one person to another,[12] but for the purpose of transactive memory construction this communication must deal with information regarding the knowledge, expertise and relevant experience of other individuals in the system.[13]

At the first stage in a group's life cycle, knowing each of the team members' expertise allows the group to distribute work in a more efficient way and allocate different assignments to team members that are the most qualified for these assignments. The existence of many interactions in the early stages of group formation provides each of the teammates the opportunity to get to know other team members' training, level of expertise or the lack of knowledge in certain areas,[6] and develop a shared understanding of the task's requirements and the way that the total of the teammates knowledge combines together.[11]

Much research has shown that a transactive memory system is primarily developed through interactions between team members. Training on the task that a group is expected to do together has been shown to assist in the development of a transactive memory system.[8] In this study, when the group members were trained together, the team developed a stronger transactive memory system, recalled more information about the process, and made fewer errors compared to teams where individuals had gone through the same training but separately. The researchers concluded that the interactions that took place during the joint training allowed the team members to develop an understanding of their teammates' skills, assisted their search for relevant information about the task from their teammates, and assess the accuracy and reliability of this information. As a result, groups that trained together performed better in the task. In a later study, these same researchers also determined that familiarity with their teammates or liking didn't explain the differences between groups that were trained together and those that were not.[10] In this study, the researchers gave the groups that didn't train together a team building exercise but they still did not do as well as the trained together group.

Development of transactive memory

During the retrieval stage, a group member uses the developed transactive memory to identify a group member that specializes in the required knowledge area and then turns to that member to attain the knowledge.[3] If this information is accurate and useful, the linkage to the member with specialized knowledge is strengthened. If the information is not accurate, then the encoding stage is entered into again such that information about the inaccuracy of the knowledge the specialized member provided is re-encoded and stored in the transactive memory system.


In the storage stage, the relevant information is stored in the possession of the team member owning the corresponding expertise; once the experts have been identified, new information is transmitted directly to the relevant team member, a process which improves the learning process and reduces the load on the memory of the individual teammate.[2]


The encoding process is very important in the development of transactive memory.[9] Encoding occurs through interaction between teammates: through sharing knowledge and seeking information from other team members teammates learn on the expertise of each team member as a first essential step towards specialization.[3]

In the encoding stage, the teammates gain information on the other team members domains of knowledge and categorize it by ascribing each knowledge domain to the corresponding team member.[9] Sometimes, this acquaintance emerge through "who did what" conversation.[3]


Just like human memory, the development of a transactive memory system involves three stages: encoding, storage and retrieval. These processes are transactive, meaning that they are updated as members exchange information with one another.[3]

Transactive processes for the development of transactive memory systems


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