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If You Want A Better Memory, Get -- And Stay -- Married

Newlyweds

Research suggests that people in committed relationships are more deeply satisfied with their lives than their single peers.
It turns out that long-term monogamy makes you smarter, too, according to a new study by psychologist Celia Harris of Macquarie University in Australia.

As io9 reports, when you’re part of a closely connected couple, you form “an interpersonal cognitive system where each is dependent on the other to fill in certain memory gaps.”

Interestingly, couples didn’t perform better in remembering lists of words or other rote recall tasks, but they could better tease out vivid information about the things they had experienced together.

The BPS Research Digest explains that the “collaborative memory benefits” between couples can take three forms:

  1. “New information” such as finally snatching an elusive name of a musical thanks to a chain of prompts between the two parties.
  2. Richer, more vivid descriptions of events, including sensory information.
  3. Information from one partner that paints things in a new light for the other.

The benefits depended on the couple. The more intimate that people felt with their partners, the better they did with the recall.

The approach mattered, too. When partners could riff on each other’s ideas they did better on memory tests than if they were “passive or critical.”

This is significant, because we tend to assume that thinking happens within the individual. Harris concludes that cognition is “distributed,” meaning that it’s a process that happens between people. As she writes, a couple isn’t just a pair of individuals hanging out a lot — they become a “socially distributed cognitive system.”

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