The Otago Memory Group brings together researchers based at the University of Otago for informal discussion of interdisciplinary approaches to memory.

Contact: kourken.michaelian@otago.ac.nz


04 May 2018, 4-5 p.m., CASTC. Juergen Gnoth (Department of Marketing). Tourists' online experience blogs as big data: Representative memories?

Advances in social media opportunities but also in information science now allow linguistic analysis of big data online. Initial efforts in Marketing research involved sentiment analyses of millions of customer complaints, customer-to-customer and customer-to-firm communications, including those we find on TripAdvisor or Booking.com etc. Communication platforms such as these have become powerful sources of word-of-mouth influence on consumers’ decision-making processes directing millions of decisions and framing subsequent experiences.

We (Kamal Rahmani, Damien Mather and I) have now begun to expand into ways of conducting not only sentiment but also semantic analysis, and to bring linguistic and consumer behaviour theory with information science into areas such as branding and service experience research. In particular, we are researching tourists’ affective reactions to holiday destinations, and how they impact interpretation as meaning-making and memory.

We use thousands of tourists’ blogs (millions of words) containing reports on travel experiences. User generated content is usually considered more credible than commercial communication and advertising, affecting perception. Indeed, the Chinese tourism market informs itself almost exclusively through reports written by other tourists on five major internet platforms including Weibo. These blogs discuss everything, from what are famous travel destinations, to attractions, from activities and cultural content, to local people, prices and quality. They are used as diaries, to stay connected, to brag, praise or complain.

The theoretical model we apply to tourists’ blogs supposes that we can rationally access and detail the affective content contained in narratives by deconstructing the perceptual process. Individual words, phrases and combinations of words (or vectors in info-sciences) express the subjectively felt affect that the narrator reacts to in the stimulus (the attraction). In turn these affective reactions are interpreted in the third step of the perceptual process; they feed into the semantics of meaning-making including tourists’ feelings. As listeners, we can therefor interpret tourists’ affective reaction to a destination from what they say, write and report. In other words, it allows us to understand the narrator’s attraction to the destination and measure it as potency, the arousal or activity it stimulates, as well as what sort of affect impact the evaluation of the experience.

I will present and compare findings of tourists’ emotional experiences to three distinctly different travel destinations (Brazil, Japan and Italy). This information (written in English) was filtered from 1000s of blogs (>1000 words each) and composed by tourists to each of these countries – often while still travelling.

We use SAS Enterprise Miner software to analyse the data and capture each blog’s affective content, by giving each document a differentiated score on each of Plutchik’s (1980) eight basic emotions. Using Structural Equation Modelling, we then measure which and how much each of these affective reactions feed into the meaning-making process as measured by Osgood, Succi and Tannenbaum’s (1957) meaning dimensions of Potency, Activity and Evaluation.

To weight the affective content in each of the blogs’ words we use the NRC e-dictionary; and for extracting the meaning making dimensions (Osgood, Succi and Tannenbaum 1957) we use the General Inquirer dictionary from Harvard.

This research leads to some intriguing questions, including philosophical, linguistic and psychological questions of experiencing, memory-making and word-of-mouth. We use the averages of 1000s of blogs to extract affective reactions and meaning-making dimensions, thereby normalising or neutralising subjective motivations or other such phenomenological influences on reporting experiences. To what extent is this a true and objective representation of what a destination country actually represents, stirs, provokes or renders to a tourist as its unique experience? As word-of-mouth, can such blogs represent the Corpus linguistic of what is publicly encoded?


02 March 2018, 4-5 p.m., CASTD. Nora Newcombe (Temple University). Episodic memory and spatial memory: Linkages in development.

Episodic memory relies on memory for the relations among multiple elements of an event (relational memory) and the ability to discriminate among similar episodes (pattern separation). The main aim of this talk is to describe new tasks designed to assess both relational memory and pattern separation, which we have used with toddlers, 4- and 6- year-olds, young adults and aging adults. However, the talk will begin with a review of data from spatial-relational memory tasks, which I will use to argue that periods of infantile amnesia (birth to age two years) and childhood amnesia (2 to 6 years) are bounded by underlying neural development.


25 August 2017, 4-5 p.m., BURN4. Harlene Hayne (Department of Psychology). Out of the mouths of babes: Memory development in infants and children.

"If any one faculty of our nature may be called more wonderful than the rest, I do think it is memory…. We are, to be sure, a miracle in every way; but our powers of recollecting and of forgetting do seem peculiarly past finding out." -- Jane Austen, Mansfield Park.

Like Jane Austen, my students and I are fascinated by the process of memory--the brain’s ability to store virtually endless amounts of information, retaining it so that we can retrieve, ponder, and use it hours, days, or even decades later. Unlike Jane Austen, however, we believe that scientists will eventually unlock some of the basic secrets to “our powers of recollecting and of forgetting.” Furthermore, we believe that one key to unlocking these secrets will emerge through systematic studies of memory development. For example, although acquiring our first words or taking our first steps was undoubtedly monumental at the time it occurred, we have no conscious recollection of our achievement of these milestones. In contrast, our memories of other important achievements that took place slightly later in development (e.g., our first day of school or the first time we rode a bike without training wheels) often survive the test of time and eventually form part of our autobiography. The conspicuous absence of memories for the early years of our lives is commonly referred to as childhood amnesia. For more than two decades my students and I have been studying childhood amnesia by examining memory development as it unfolds during infancy and early childhood. Using a number of different experimental procedures we have shown that for very young participants, memory retrieval is disrupted by even minor changes in the context or stimuli, limiting the accessibility of a given memory over time. Similarly, language development also plays an important role in childhood amnesia; children exhibit limited ability to translate their verbal memories into language as they learn to talk. Recently, we have also documented age-related changes in verbal and nonverbal episodic memory that reflect the emergence of long-term autobiographical memory during childhood. Taken together our research has addressed some important theoretical questions about the source of childhood amnesia. In addition, charting the course of memory development has helped us to understand children’s strengths and weaknesses when they must rely on their memory in educational, legal, and clinical settings.


28 July 2017, 3-4 p.m., CASTB. Kourken Michaelian (Department of Philosophy). Collective memory: A philosophical perspective.

The concept of collective memory has currency both in the social sciences, in research focusing on how societies and other large-scale groups remember their pasts, and in psychology, in research on how married couples, parent-child dyads, and other small-scale groups remember events together. But how seriously should we take the concept? Is collective memory a mere metaphor? Or are (some) groups (sometimes) literally capable of remembering?


28 April 2017, 3-4 p.m., CASTD. Evelyn Tribble (Department of English and Linguistics). Contagious Memory in Shakespeare.

Memory is a subject divided by a common vocabulary. For many cognitive psychologists, memory has been seen as an intra-cranial phenomenon, best studied in laboratory settings, where it can be tested in isolation from confounding factors. Researchers in the humanities and the arts, in contrast, often view memory as a social and collective phenomenon. Historians, anthropologists and cultural critics tend to be much more interested in the social and public aspects of memory, as embodied in, for example, in museums, monuments, and commemorative activities, or as collective traumas are repressed or expressed by public acts of memory. There is often little overlap between these two paradigms for studying memory. For example, the cognitive-science oriented Oxford Handbook of Memory does not discuss social or collective memory at all; in turn, the historical-philosophical oriented collection Theories of Memory: A Reader ignores cognitive science completely. This essay is a preliminary foray into bringing these two methods into dialogue with one another, using Romeo and Juliet as a test case. I propose to first examine internal dynamics of remembering and forgetting in the play, particularly the technique of retrospective story-telling, as characters attempt to shape and reshape memories for events that have just occurred. I argue that these dynamics – particularly the tendency to shape complex, contingent, and accidental events into binary categories that are more easily remembered – in turn affects that way that the play is received – how it is culturally (mis)remembered


31 March 2017, 4-5 p.m., CASTD. Elaine Reese (Department of Psychology). Origins of Autobiography: The development of memory and life stories.

Professor Reese will present the results of two longitudinal studies of autobiographical memory development with Dunedin children from age 1 to 16 years. These studies have focused on the development of episodic memory in early childhood and adolescence, and on the emergence of autobiographical reasoning in adolescence.