“Cultural memory” meets cognitive science

A fascinating study on “cultural memory”– http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/28/science/study-details-presidents-paths-from-power-to-dusty-corner-of-cultural-memory.html

A remarkably useful study conducted — as good science should be– longitudinally on cultural memory, using presidential names and their “memorability” as a test.

(and who “remembers” — literally– Chester A. Arthur? Show of hands:  ) images

Collective cultural memory — for presidents, for example — works according to the same laws as the individual kind, at least when it comes to recalling historical names and remembering them in a given order, researchers reported on Thursday. The findings suggest that leaders who are well known today, like the elder President George Bush and President Bill Clinton, will be all but lost to public memory in just a few decades….. 

Scientists have a straightforward theory to explain this uneven, predictable memory curve. The brain evolved so that the skills and knowledge that are most useful now or in the future are those most accessible to memory. If a skill is not used or rehearsed, it fades. Culture mimics the pattern: The less a president is “used” — seen, heard about, written about, referred to — the less accessible to memory the name becomes.

The study authors predict that presidents like Lyndon B. Johnson, Nixon and Carter will by 2040 be remembered by less than a quarter of the public. After that, it is a steep fall to Millard Fillmore land.

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