Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Destination Memory: I Already Told You About This?

Have you ever realized or been informed that the person you are talking to has already heard the joke or story you are telling?  You are not alone.

Destination Memory – defined as the ability to remember to whom you told what — has been found to be weaker than other forms of memory regardless of age.  This memory lapse  can prove to be embarrassing and even professionally or personally damaging.

Why is Destination Memory Weaker?

  • According to Nigel Gopie and Colin MacLeod, the researchers who coined the term destination memory,  we may have more practice and feedback developing other forms of memory like explicit memory, our memory for facts, dates, vocabulary etc. or implicit memory, our memory for riding a bike, driving a car etc.   You’ve heard the expression,  “ It’s like riding a bike, you never forget it.”   The destination of what we say may be weaker because we  have more need to remember the fact than the person with whom we share it.
  • Gopie and Mackleod’s research findings reported in the 2009  journal, Psychological Science reveal that when students are asked to speak a fact they are trying to memorize out loud to someone’s picture, their later performance on remembering the facts and faces declines compared to students asked to simply memorize facts matched with faces. One hypothesis is that the telling of the fact to another person is actually a competing task that interferes with memory. Perhaps we suppress memory of our audience to reduce the interference. Certainly more study is needed.

For Now…

How Do You Improve Destination Memory?

These researchers tell us that saying the recipient’s name before you share your information increases the likelihood of remembering to whom you told what.

“Joe, I have to tell you what happened at the office last week.”

How Do You Avoid The Embarrassment Of “Re-Telling” A Story?

It is suggested that if uncertain, you might preface the story with a caveat like “Stop me if I told you this – it’s just so interesting to me…. Or “I might have told your this, if so….etc”

Should We Correct Our Partner’s Destination Memory?

Think twice. If it is a choice between “Honey, you already told them about our nightmare cruise”  or relying on the patience of your listening friends – go with the friends.

Destination Memory Doesn’t Always Count Between Partners

The telling and re-telling of stories old and new – particularly of shared experiences is not only inevitable between partners – it is desirable. It is a little bit like the “ mutual stuff” neither partner minds cluttering the house.  Such stories are welcomed and appreciated between partners. Whereas the kids no longer want to hear about the “nightmare cruise” and the friends no longer care, the couple will take it off the shelf over and over and enjoy the re-telling. It is part of the fabric or their shared oral history.