Memory & Cognition

, Volume 45, Issue 8, pp 1281–1294 | Cite as

Memory for conversation and the development of common ground

  • Geoffrey L. McKinley
  • Sarah Brown-Schmidt
  • Aaron S. Benjamin


Efficient conversation is guided by the mutual knowledge, or common ground, that interlocutors form as a conversation progresses. Characterized from the perspective of commonly used measures of memory, efficient conversation should be closely associated with item memory—what was said—and context memory—who said what to whom. However, few studies have explicitly probed memory to evaluate what type of information is maintained following a communicative exchange. The current study examined how item and context memory relate to the development of common ground over the course of a conversation, and how these forms of memory vary as a function of one’s role in a conversation as speaker or listener. The process of developing common ground was positively related to both item and context memory. In addition, content that was spoken was remembered better than content that was heard. Our findings illustrate how memory assessments can complement language measures by revealing the impact that basic conversational processes have on memory for what has been discussed. By taking this approach, we show that not only does the process of forming common ground facilitate communication in the present, but it also promotes an enduring record of that event, facilitating conversation into the future.


Common ground Destination memory Source memory Egocentrism Referential communication Conversation 



This material is based on work supported by National Science Foundation Grants NSF BCS 1257029 and BCS 1556700 to Sarah Brown-Schmidt. We would like to thank Michael Agapito, Phoebe Bauer, Jessica Chu, Jensen Davis, Nathan Couch, and Taylor Salata for assistance with data collection and coding.


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Geoffrey L. McKinley
    • 1
  • Sarah Brown-Schmidt
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Aaron S. Benjamin
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignChampaignUSA
  2. 2.Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and TechnologyUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignChampaignUSA
  3. 3.Department of Psychology and Human DevelopmentVanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA

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