Toward a science of silence: The consequences of leaving a memory unsaid

Charles B. Stone, Alin Coman, Adam D. Brown, Jonathan Koppel, William Hirst

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


Silence about the past permeates acts of remembering, with marked mnemonic consequences. Mnemonic silence-the absence of expressing a memory-is public in nature and is embedded within communicative acts, such as conversations. As such, silence has the potential to affect both speakers-the source of the silence-and listeners-those attending to the speaker. Although the topic of silence is widely discussed, it is rarely mentioned in the empirical literature on memory. Three factors are employed to classify silence into different types: whether a silence is accompanied by covert remembering, whether the silence is intentional or unintentional, and whether the silenced memory is related or unrelated to the memories emerging in a conversation. These factors appear to be critical when considering the mnemonic consequences. Moreover, the influence of silence on memory varies between speaker and listener. Although rarely mentioned, recent empirical research on memory clearly has a bearing on a topic of such general interest as silence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39-53
Number of pages15
JournalPerspectives on Psychological Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2012
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


  • collective memory
  • covertness
  • forgetting
  • intentionality
  • relatedness
  • retrieval-induced forgetting
  • silence


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