Cognitive Consequences

The experiments reported in the article by Sparrow, Liu, and Wegner (2011) mostly dealt with somewhat superficial instructions and data. Describe transactive memory from a neurological perspective.

From a neurological perspective, transactive memory is a system in which groups store, encode and access knowledge collectively for access and retrieval. In light of the topic of online learning I don’t think that this has changed so much as it has simply evolved. Technology (and devices) appear to stand-in as communication portals or interfaces. They represent the virtual self or serve as an extension for the formation of online groups. It would seem then that electronic transactive memory is just a virtual manifestation traditional transactive memory. Is it perhaps just transactive memory 2.0?


If anything, online learning (the internet specifically) has broadened the possibility of having wider groupings, networks or knowledge pools. It mobilizes information by disseminating it far and wide. In this view, devices/technologies become a prosthesis to increase memory necessary to cope with the sheer volume of information we now have at our fingertips. Perhaps this is a necessary evolution in the information era, our virtual bionic self? The observation that “the Internet has become a primary form of external or transactive memory, where information is stored collectively outside ourselves” (Sparrow et al., 2011) is an apt description of this.


Sparrow, B., Liu, J., Wegner, D. M. (2011). Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips. Science, 333, 776-778. Accessed online:

Image source: “Signaling (animated)” by Kai Schreiber is licensed under CC BY SA 2.0

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