A rational analysis of the effects of memory biases on serial reproduction

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Many human interactions involve pieces of information being passed from one person to another, raising the question of how this process of information transmission is affected by the cognitive capacities of the agents involved. Bartlett (1932) explored the influence of memory biases on the "serial reproduction" of information, in which one person's reconstruction of a stimulus from memory becomes the stimulus seen by the next person. These experiments were done using relatively uncontrolled stimuli, but suggested that serial reproduction could transform information in a way that reflected the biases inherent in memory. We formally analyze serial reproduction using a Bayesian model of reconstruction from memory, giving a general result characterizing the effect of memory biases on information transmission. We then test the predictions of this account in four experiments using simple one-dimensional stimuli. Our results provide theoretical and empirical justification for the idea that serial reproduction reflects memory biases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)107-126
Number of pages20
JournalCognitive Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2010
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


  • Autoregressive time series analysis
  • Bayesian inference
  • Inductive biases
  • Markov chain
  • Memory
  • Serial reproduction


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