Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 521–560 | Cite as

The psychology of memory, extended cognition, and socially distributed remembering

  • John SuttonEmail author
  • Celia B. Harris
  • Paul G. Keil
  • Amanda J. Barnier


This paper introduces a new, expanded range of relevant cognitive psychological research on collaborative recall and social memory to the philosophical debate on extended and distributed cognition. We start by examining the case for extended cognition based on the complementarity of inner and outer resources, by which neural, bodily, social, and environmental resources with disparate but complementary properties are integrated into hybrid cognitive systems, transforming or augmenting the nature of remembering or decision-making. Adams and Aizawa, noting this distinctive complementarity argument, say that they agree with it completely: but they describe it as “a non-revolutionary approach” which leaves “the cognitive psychology of memory as the study of processes that take place, essentially without exception, within nervous systems.” In response, we carve out, on distinct conceptual and empirical grounds, a rich middle ground between internalist forms of cognitivism and radical anti-cognitivism. Drawing both on extended cognition literature and on Sterelny’s account of the “scaffolded mind” (this issue), we develop a multidimensional framework for understanding varying relations between agents and external resources, both technological and social. On this basis we argue that, independent of any more “revolutionary” metaphysical claims about the partial constitution of cognitive processes by external resources, a thesis of scaffolded or distributed cognition can substantially influence or transform explanatory practice in cognitive science. Critics also cite various empirical results as evidence against the idea that remembering can extend beyond skull and skin. We respond with a more principled, representative survey of the scientific psychology of memory, focussing in particular on robust recent empirical traditions for the study of collaborative recall and transactive social memory. We describe our own empirical research on socially distributed remembering, aimed at identifying conditions for mnemonic emergence in collaborative groups. Philosophical debates about extended, embedded, and distributed cognition can thus make richer, mutually beneficial contact with independently motivated research programs in the cognitive psychology of memory.


Extended cognition Distributed cognition Collaborative recall Memory Social memory Transactive memory 



The research was funded by an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Project grant DP0770271 to Amanda Barnier and John Sutton and an ARC Australian Research Fellowship to Amanda Barnier: we are grateful for that support. Special thanks to Richard Menary for running another excellent workshop on these themes and for helpful comments on an earlier draft, and to our collaborators on various parts of the framework developed here, notably Lucas Bietti, Wayne Christensen, Andy Clark, Roger Dixon, Greg Downey, Andrew Geeves, Bill Hirst, Doris McIlwain, Lars Marstaller, Anne Monchamp, Suparna Rajaram, Charlie Stone, Evelyn Tribble, Kellie Williamson, Rob Wilson, and Carl Windhorst. Earlier versions of the paper were presented at the Wollongong workshop “Embodied Cognition, Enactivism, and the Extended Mind” in December 2009 and at the annual conference of the Australasian Association of Philosophy at UNSW in July 2010. Our thanks to Annette Baier, Paul Griffiths, Jenann Ismael, Philip Pettit, Kim Sterelny, and everyone else who offered us feedback on those occasions.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Sutton
    • 1
    Email author
  • Celia B. Harris
    • 1
  • Paul G. Keil
    • 1
  • Amanda J. Barnier
    • 1
  1. 1.Macquarie Centre for Cognitive ScienceMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia

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