Collective Cognition

Collective Cognition

Collective Cognition Research Group

Our interdisciplinary Collective Cognition Research Group was started by Professor Amanda Barnier, a cognitive psychologist, and Professor John Sutton, a philosopher, and initially supported by an ARC Australian Research Fellowship and 5 year Discovery Project(2007-11). Our members continue to be supported by ARC Discovery Projects and ARC Fellowships (e.g., Future Fellowship, DECRA).

The Collective Cognition Research Group also has links with the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders (CCD), and in particular the CCD's Memory Program.

We integrate psychological, philosophical and other approaches to explore individual memory, individual memory in small groups and small-group collective memory. Motivated by philosophical theories such as distributed cognition, we use and extend experimental memory paradigms in innovative ways to bridge the gap between the laboratory and everyday memory phenomena.

Our research has focused for instance on:

  • The costs and benefits of remembering together versus alone in real world groups with a long history of shared encoding and retrieval, such as siblings, friends, work colleagues, and married couples;
  • The potential of shared remembering to compensate for and/or protect older adults from the effects of cognitive decline and very early dementia;
  • Patterns of shared remembering in family dyads and groups across generations, such as mothers and children, mothers and fathers, grandparents and grandchildren, young children from the same family;
  • The memory strategies that characterise and predict successful memory performance; and
  • Other forms of group memory performance, especially more procedural memory shown by skilled sporting teams players.

The Collective Cognition Group welcomes researchers and practitioners from all disciplines and counts among its members and visitors: cognitive, developmental, clinical, organisational and neuropsychologists; philosophers, historians, anthropologists, literary theorists, English scholars, sociologists, neuroscientists and many others.

We host an Annual Memory Day in November or December and regularly host leading national and international scholars.


Example Projects 

Collaboration and executive attention

Nikolas Williams, Celia Harris, Amanda Barnier

My research examines how individual cognitive differences within a collaborating group affect both group remembering as well as individual memory following collaboration. Currently, I am conducting a study in which I compose extreme groups based on working memory capacity in order to see how executive control discrepancy influences both collaborative and post-collaborative memory. With this research I hope to identify factors that contribute to optimal group memory performance as well as explain how the collaborative remembering process affects individuals of different cognitive abilities.

Collaborative and Autobiographical Memory in Strangers, Friends, Siblings, and Twins

Amanda Selwood, Amanda Barnier, John Sutton, Celia Harris

In my PhD research, I investigate how people in different kinds of non-romantic peer relationships remember together and whether this changes according to the kind of remembering they engage in. I aim to determine whether recalling with a stranger, friend, sibling, or twin influences the product and process of collaborative remembering, and whether intimacy and shared identity play a role in friends’, siblings,’ or twins’ collaborative remembering. Motivated by the theories of autobiographical memory, shared identity, and transactive memory, my research highlights the close connections between shared history, shared knowledge, shared identity, intimacy, and collaborative remembering.

Collective memory: The social context of remembering together

Vana Webster, Amanda Barnier, Penny van Bergen

My PhD project explores the costs and benefits of remembering with others. In particular, I examine how collaborative remembering is influenced by: the closeness between group members; the cognitive resources of individuals; and the use of coordinated strategies during collaboration. Closeness might be especially important for those facing cognitive decline or dementia and have a need for cognitive assistance. By better understanding the predictors of successful memory sharing, we can inform protective memory advice and the development of interventions aiming to support memory.

Cuing autobiographical memories by external memory cues in the personal environment

Annemarie Zijlema, Elise van den Hoven , Berry Eggen , Amanda Barnier

My PhD research looks at the cuing of autobiographical memories by items in the personal environment. We surround ourselves with many things that relate to our past, and in the last decade especially with digital items, but we know little about their ability to cue memories. The focus of the PhD is on the relation between the external memory cue and retrospective remembering. What does cue and how does this relation between memories and items evolve? Topics that this PhD covers are the cuability of cue-items, how cues evolve over time and the cuing responses these items can evoke. Methods used in the PhD are mainly qualitative. The final aim of this PhD research is to gain knowledge that will support design for remembering.

Do ageing stereotypes moderate false memories in younger and older adults?

Katya Numbers, Amanda Barnier, Celia Harris, John Sutton, and Michelle Meade

One common way that social sources are discounted centres on stereotypes of aging and perceptions of older adults' memorial abilities. Numerous examples exist in the literature of a general tendency to discount information believed to have come from an older adult, even if that information is mostly correct. Further, studies suggest that older adults often doubt their own memory abilities, which causes them to rely heavily on others' interpretations of a shared event. This becomes especially problematic when the other person with whom an older adult is recollecting an event is intentionally, or unintentionally, misleading. My research aims to clarify when and how stereotypes of aging influence memory performance in both older adults and younger adults. My thesis will consider how the adoption of false items from a partner is moderated by: (1) actual partner accuracy; (2) perceived partner age; (3) the interaction between partner accuracy and age; (4) metamemorial beliefs regarding others’, as well as of one’s own, memory abilities

Editing Thinking

Karen Pearlman

This project is inquiring into how film editors think. The current case study is the more than 30-year collaboration between Dziga Vertov and his wife and professional associate, Elizaveta Svilova. Their collaboration on historically very significant films is being considered as an example of extended mind’ (Clark & Chalmers, 1998, Clark, 2008), collective memory (Sutton, 2015) and creative participation in ‘embodied simulation’ (Gallese & Guerrra, 2012). The case study helps define the richly integrated thinking process that manifests in the editing of their films as ‘editing thinking’. It suggests that Svilova, as an editor is a full creative partner in Vertov's own extended mind, and as such a significantly under recognized figure in the Soviet montage era. Her contribution via editing thinking was central to Vertov’s achievements. It also suggests that editing thinking can be understood and developed as a skill for filmmakers and a transferable skill for other forms of collaboration and media. 

From past to future and future to past: How we collaborate to remember, imagine and plan

Aline Cordonnier, Amanda Barnier, John Sutton

Past and future thinking are thought to rely on similar component processes and draw upon the same information in memory. In my project, I seek to expand actual research on mental time travel to what we have termed “autobiographical thinking”. Autobiographical thinking includes a wide range of ways to think about personal events, such as remembering, simulating and imagining events set in the past or imagining, simulating, and planning events set in the future. Throughout my thesis, I compare different forms of autobiographical thinking on a range of measures, such as text analysis, content analysis and phenomenological analysis. I discuss my results in terms of similarities and differences between the different types of past and future thinking, whilst raising questions about current experimental methods. Finally, I also developed a theoretical cognitive framework for understanding the different processes of autobiographical thinking.

Markers of Authenticity: Forgery, Memory, and History

Malcolm Choat

My research examines the markers of authenticity in human experience of the past, asking how we confidently access and understand the past, and assimilate it into our present. How does memory mediate our experience of the deep past, and what paradigms enable us to best utilise research on memory to better understand the way history is constructed, transmitted, and received? How do we detect and guard against forgery, and what does the forging of artifacts, and their detection, say about the importance of the past to the present? Evidence for this is sought in the way ancient manuscripts were copied and how they were forged in modernity; how different modes of transmission effect our experience of the past; how we characterise authorship; how we can detect forgeries scientifically; and the way in which replicated antiquities function as a link to the past. As an overarching theme, this research asks how the different disciplines of the Sciences, Social Sciences, and Humanities work together to mediate our view of the past: put simply, who has the authority to determine authenticity?

Materialising Memories

Elise van den Hoven, Department of Industrial Design, Eindhoven University of Technology; Duncan of Jordanstone; Royal Prince Alfred Hospital

The international research program Materialising Memories uses a design research approach (including research-for-design and research-through-design) to study people's everyday remembering activities and experiences. One of the focus areas in the research program is around memory cues, voluntary and involuntary, how people are affected by them and whether these can be purposely created. For example, we study how media, such as photos, are used in everyday remembering situations and what desired relivings of memories are. The aim is to inform and create innovative media products that support remembering and forgetting through memory cuing.

This is a broad area, including a range of contexts (e.g. sharing personal experiences at home or on the go, or reminiscing about loved ones who have passed away) and different user groups (including people with healthy memories but also those who experience challenges).
The approach includes the design and implementation of innovative interactive products created to support people's needs and wishes, these products are then evaluated in the real world. This people-centred design process starts from theoretical knowledge in combination with people's real-life experiences, which is implemented in practical design concepts for use in everyday life.

Social contagion of autobiographical memory

Misia Temler, Amanda Barnier, John Sutton

My interest lies in the malleability of autobiographical memory. I am particularly interested in how autobiographical memory report changes are interpreted in the forensic context versus the everyday context. I aim to better understand the pattern and nature of autobiographical memory variability. 
In the forensic setting, omissions, additions and contradictions across retellings are often seen as either contamination from others or a sign of deception. In my recently submitted PhD thesis I examined how memory reports changed across retellings under a range of different conditions. Specifically I examined and compared the role of social and individual factors in autobiographical memory account variation in the presence and absence of contagion. My findings suggest that changes in autobiographical memory reports across retellings ought to be expected. My findings also suggest that rather than focusing on singular deviations in details, discerning baselines and variation thresholds for changes across retellings may be more beneficial in deciding the ‘truthfulness’ of memory reports. My research is significant because it draws on and broadens current theoretical perspectives on memory, and looks at changes across retellings due to intrinsic variability in the same context as changes across retellings due social contagion.

Social Memory and Distributed Cognitive Ecologies

John Sutton

My book on shared and social remembering, to be published by Oxford University Press, will integrate much of our work on distributed cognition, collective memory, and collaborative recall. It also aims to set an agenda for ongoing work on dementia and distributed cognition. While working alongside and contributing to the ‘normal science’ of our core CCT projects, I hope to continue to keep the team’s eyes on tough conceptual issues, and to expand our methodological range by bringing in recent ideas from cognitive ethnography, theories of skill, conversation analysis, and social ontology

The Effect of Collaboration on Prospective Memory Performance

Catherine Browning, Celia Harris, Amanda Barnier

When it comes to remembering to do the things we need to do (prospective memory), are two heads better than one? Prospective memory is considered to be vital for everyday functioning, yet declines with age. Collaboration is known to have a range of positive and negative effects on recall of past events, however we know little about how collaboration affects prospective memory performance. This project aims to examine the effect of collaboration on prospective memory, with a view to identifying processes that might inform the development of compensatory strategies to assist those experiencing prospective memory decline.


Research Group Leaders

  • Professor Amanda Barnier
  • Professor John Sutton

Current Researchers

  • Professor Amanda Barnier
  • Dr Rochelle Cox
  • Dr Celia Harris
  • Dr David Kaplan
  • Associate Professor Richard Menary
  • Professor John Sutton

Current Students

  • Catherine Browning
  • Aline Cordonnier
  • Mirko Farina
  • Christopher McCarroll
  • Katya Numbers
  • Misia Temler
  • Vana Webster
  • Nikolas Williams

Current Research Assistants

  • Dr Thomas Morris


  • Lucas Bietti, Institute of Work and Organizational Psychology, University of Neuchatel
  • Dr Richard Heersmink, Department of Philosophy, Macquarie University.
  • Dr Marina Trakas


  • Andrew Attard, Department of Psychology, Macquarie University
  • Dr Penny van Bergen, School of Education, Macquarie University
  • Associate Professor Richard Kemp, School of Psychology, UNSW
  • Mr Paul Keil, Department of Anthropology, Macquarie University
  • Dr Karen Pearlman, Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies, Macquarie University
  • Associate Professor Greg Savage, Department of Psychology, Macquarie University
  • Dr Naomi Sweller, Department of Psychology, Macquarie University
  • Associate Professor Malcolm Choat, Department of Ancient History, Macquarie University
  • Dr Rachel Yeun-Collingridge, Department of Ancient History, Macquarie University
  • Associate Professor Elise van den Hoven, School of Design, UTS
  • Associate Professor Greg Downey, Department of Anthropology, Macquarie University
  • Ms Elizabeth Austin, Department of Psychology, Macquarie University

International Collaborators

  • Dr Annelies Vredeveldt, Department of Criminal Law and Criminology, VU Amsterdam
  • Professor William Hirst, Department of Psychology, The New School, New York City
  • Professor David Balota, Department of Psychology, Washington University St Louis
  • Associate Professor Michelle Meade, Department of Psychology, Montana State University
  • Professor Elaine Reese, Department of Psychology, University of Otago
  • Associate Professor Donna Rose Addis, School of Psychology & Centre for Brain Research, The University of Auckland
  • Associate Professor Janet Duchek, Department of Psychology, WUSTL


  • Ms Dorothy Curtis, Department of Psychology, Macquarie University

Back to top

Back to the top of this page