Assignment 1: Mapping Meaning
As part of my Change by Design module, I have read The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, a book that looks at epidemics of social behavior. I’ve always been a bit of a reader. I absorbed books as a child, and amassed a gigantic collection of Point Horror novels! Although I mainly stick to fiction (Harry Potter, the Sookie Stackhouse novels – my tastes haven’t really changed since I was about twelve, to be honest, but I have done most of the classics and must-reads too!) I rather enjoyed The Tipping Point. I did find the book to be a bit repetitive, but I suppose that’s part of what it takes to make information “sticky”! To complete Assignment 1 of Change by Design I produced an overview of the book as a mind map, and then chose one chapter to look at more closely. It might take another read for me to really get my head around the whole book, because I found that when mind mapping I got a bit mixed up with which chapter was which, and what information came from where.
The chapter I chose to look at in more depth was The Power of Context (Part Two), which is concerned with “the magic number one hundred and fifty”. After a bit of Googling for past students’ blogs I think this might be a bit of an unpopular choice! I chose this chapter because I am quite interested in psychology, and I found the concept that we have a finite capacity for close relationships quite fascinating! I’d never really thought about it before. I was already familiar with Miller’s The Magical Number Seven, but had only ever thought about it in the context of “chunks of information”, sequences of numbers or letters, etc. Dunbar argues that humans evolved bigger brains (with bigger neocortices) in order to better deal with larger social groups. I had never really thought about the brain power associated with having friends before, but it really can be an exhausting exercise – if I think of my closest friends, I can name their partners, many of their family members, a number of their other friends from work or college or university, and who of all of these people is having drama with whom!
I became really interested in the idea of “transactive memory”, where a lot of our information isn’t actually stored in our brains, but elsewhere. If, for example, you had to name the capital city of Bhutan, you probably don’t have that particular piece of information memorised, but you do know that if you look in an atlas (or in one of those fancy notebooks with a list of countries and capitals and a conversion chart on the inside cover, or on the internet) you’ll easily find it. I especially liked the part of the chapter that talks about how couples and families store their information with each other – I go to my boyfriend if I need computer help, for example, or if I need to find out where someplace is, because he’s good at that. I tend to be the one to remember if we have to be somewhere, or things like important dates. That all sounds a bit stereotypical, I think, but there we go!
As part of this assignment, I have also produced an annotated bibliography of my chosen chapter in the Harvard referencing style:
Miller, G. A., 1956. The Magical Number Seven. Psychological Review, 63 (2), pp. 81-97.
Here Miller says that the human mind’s working (or short-term) memory has a capacity of about seven (plus or minus two) pieces of information. Gladwell references Miller to illustrate the channel capacity concept, that humans can only handle taking in and differentiating between so many snippets of information at once.
Buys, C. J. & Larson, K. L., 1979. Human Sympathy Groups. Psychology Reports, 45 (2), pp. 547-553.
Washburn, S. L. & Moore, R., 1973. Ape into Man. Boston: Little, Brown.
These two references talk about human capacity for relationships and group size. People generally only hold about 12 to 15 people close to heart; caring deeply about people can be exhausting and requires a lot of time investment.
Dunbar, R. I. M., 1992. Neocortex Size as a Constraint on Group Size in Primates. Journal of Human Evolution, 20, pp. 469-493.
Dunbar, R. I. M., 1996. Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Dunbar argues that in primates (monkeys, chimps, baboons, humans) group size, the capacity for close relationships, is directly related to the size of the neocortex area of the brain. He has studied many hunter-gatherer tribes for which there is documented history, and found that their group sizes tend to average just below the magic number of one hundred and fifty.
Wegner, D., 1987. Transactive Memory: A Contemporary Analysis of the Group Mind. In: Mullen, B. & Goethals, G. eds.Theories of Group Behavior. New York: Springer-Verlag, pp. 200-201.
Wegner, D., 1991. Transactive Memory in Close Relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61 (6), pp. 923-929.
Wegner describes “transactive memory”, where much of what we remember is not stored in our brain, but outside it; our information tends not to be memorised, but stored elsewhere – in phone books, diaries, atlases, or with our partners, children, or siblings. We then simply memorise what kind of information is stored where, so that we can easily access it when needed.