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: Do You Have A Problem With Destination Memory?

Have you ever realized or been informed that the person you are talking to has already heard the joke or story you are telling?

“ I already told you this?”

If you have been in this situation, you are not alone. You are dealing with what experts call, Destination Memory.

Destination memory is the ability to remember to whom you told what. The reason that so many of us have problems with it, is that it has been found to be weaker than other forms of memory regardless of age.

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 such as 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 how.”  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 2009 in 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 who are 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 the memory of our audience to reduce the interference.
  • Certainly more research is needed, but for now…

How Do You Improve Destination Memory?

These researchers suggest 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 Actually Avoid The Embarrassment Of Re-telling A Story?

If uncertain, you might preface the story with a caveat such as, “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 Have to 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” both partners accept as their shared clutter in the place they call home.  Such stories are welcomed and appreciated as the favorite legends of their relationship. Whereas the kids no longer want to hear about the “nightmare cruise” and the friends no longer care, the couple can take them off the shelf over and over and enjoy the re-telling. It is part of their fabric, their shared oral history, and the destination that they share.