Memory for conversation and the development of common ground

Geoffrey L. McKinley, Sarah Brown-Schmidt, Aaron S. Benjamin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Efficient conversation is guided by the mutual knowledge, or common ground, that interlocutors form as a conversation progresses. Characterized from the perspective of commonly used measures of memory, efficient conversation should be closely associated with item memory—what was said—and context memory—who said what to whom. However, few studies have explicitly probed memory to evaluate what type of information is maintained following a communicative exchange. The current study examined how item and context memory relate to the development of common ground over the course of a conversation, and how these forms of memory vary as a function of one’s role in a conversation as speaker or listener. The process of developing common ground was positively related to both item and context memory. In addition, content that was spoken was remembered better than content that was heard. Our findings illustrate how memory assessments can complement language measures by revealing the impact that basic conversational processes have on memory for what has been discussed. By taking this approach, we show that not only does the process of forming common ground facilitate communication in the present, but it also promotes an enduring record of that event, facilitating conversation into the future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1281-1294
Number of pages14
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number8
StatePublished - Nov 1 2017


  • Common ground
  • Conversation
  • Destination memory
  • Egocentrism
  • Referential communication
  • Source memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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