Cognitive Interdependence - Part 4

Competing theoretical underpinnings

Discuss the extensions of TMS more into management, prevalence in that area, the eventual acceptance of Sparrow into Science.

Liang, Moreland, and Argote (1995) sought to bring Wegner's work into wider recognition within both the worlds of management and experimental psychology. Though I am sure that there was other interest percolating in transactive memory in the meantime, Liang's study brought significant added momentum to the research area. As mentioned before, the researchers proposed that groups that had been trained together would perform better than those that trained individually. The researchers found that groups that trained together made about 2 errors on average whereas groups that trained individually made more than 5 errors. When the measures from the videotapes were included, the results were clear. Groups that trained together engaged in more of those three processes than other groups. They coordinated better, developed more distinct specializations in the task, and trusted one another's expertise. The researchers proposed that groups that were trained together were able to coordinate in this way because they had the opportunity to develop transactive memory. These three factors are still considered fundamental components (though some say indicators) of transactive memory within a group. The most widely used scale to measure transactive memory systems within groups was developed by Kyle Lewis in 2003 and measures these three components.

What does it all mean though? The going idea within groups research for some time did not really have a good explanation for why groups typically perform better over time. It was clear that individual perform better over time and that group members grow to like one another over time. However, there were still effects of 'group learning' controlling for these other factors. The researchers made a guess that the development of a shared system for coordination and expertise exchange could help explain how group learning was occurring. After looking into the literature, there was some work in the area of shared mental models but this work suggests that over time groups develop a sharedness in how they think things should be done. The researchers had a feeling though that the reason groups do better over time has more to do with how individuals differentiate, specialize into unique roles. And that is essentially what they found.

To confirm that there weren't other effects, the researchers then did a series of studies that looked at the effects of team building exercises and scrambling team members so that they no longer worked with the same people int he second half of the study. They found consistent results that team-building was not as good as training in terms of group performance. This study helped clarify a secondary point earlier that team-building exercises, though good for some things, do not really help groups perform better. If you are most interested in performance, on-the-job training is much more effective than building bonds with your coworkers. The researchers also found that the effects of training together were not just individual. To test this, they randomly assigned people to groups after they were trained together. What they found was that even if an individual was trained as part of a group, that training isn't that helpful if they are working in a new group. This all suggested that there was something important about group training and keeping that group together.

After these studies came out, Andrea Hollingshead began doing some extremely influential work at the University of Illinois going back to the roots of transactive memory research (starting in 1998). She explored transactive memory using romantic couples and has found some really intriguing effects. Even if a romantic couple can't talk to one another, they are able to implicitly coordinate when given a list of words such that one person remembers a set of words and the other person remembers a different set of words. Hollingshead proposed that if the words fit within one of the person's areas of expertise that they would take more effort to remember it and the other person would know not to commit effort to remembering it.

Lewis's scale, published in 2003, has made the measurement of TMS much easier for researchers. An alternative scale (Austin, 2003) is also used sometime though the difficulty in implementing the scale has led it to be less popular. Transactive memory research is now discussed in many research areas and has been accepted into top academic journals. After a controversial article in Science (Sparrow et al., 2011) it even got a mention on the Colbert Report. As with most scientific phenomena, after the initial flourish, there has been more reanalysis and reevaluation of the phenomenon. Lewis and Herndon (2011) proposed more concrete and systematic ways to think of transactive memory, possibly as an attempt to reduce abuses of the concept by researchers less familiar with its intricacies.

I believe I will publish a few more blog posts on this concept but I hope these four posts have provided a deep and (at least marginally) interesting insight into the origin of transactive memory.

**Personal information about the researchers was attained second-hand and may not be accurate.