June 16, 2021

Scientists prove the existence of collective memory

The founder of analytical psychology, Carl Gustav Jung, proposed in the mid-nineteenth century the concept of Collective Unconscious, a second psychic system whose nature is universal and impersonal. The idea refers to a dimension beyond consciousness and common to the experience of all human beings. For decades there has been a great debate about the presence of Collective unconscious and its real influence on people’s lives, but, now, the neuroscience Not only does it confirm its existence, but it affirms that this collective “memory” shapes another individual by unleashing brain reactions that synchronize personal memories to those of a social group.

According to the sociologist Maurice Halbwachs, the collective memory is composed of a combination of images, ideas and representations that are transmitted between generations. In the 50s he postulated that this memory is closely related to public opinion and influenced by the media, so it can evolve and enrich itself over time. To prove it, a group of scientists from Inserm (acronym for National Institut de la Santé Et de la Recherche Médicale) captained by Pierre Gagnepain, analyzed the media coverage that was made of the WWII from the historical archives.

The collective unconscious is composed primarily of archetypes, which are pre-existing and universal forms (ideas, images, symbols) that shape much of the psychic contents.

The idea was to identify the collective representations more common associated with this war period that, in some way integrate the collective memory. They used 3,766 documents transmitted by audiovisual or written means over a period of 30 years and, through an algorithm, identified groups of words used regularly to discuss the main issues associated with World War II, such as the Normandy’s landing.

Later, Gagnepain and his team gathered 24 volunteers, between 22 and 39 years of age to visit the Caen Memorial (Normandy) and observe photos of the time with subtitles. The volunteers, as explained in a statement, had grown during the 30 years analyzed. Well, the words of these legends (train, sabotage, maquis, bombardment, etc.) served to determine if the images were part of the same theme of collective memory. Afterwards, the volunteers passed the brain tests, which is known as functional magnetic resonance, while remembering the images observed the day before at the Memorial. The researchers focused on the activity of the medial prefrontal cortex, a key region for memory patterns. It was in this way that they discovered that when the photos were associated with the same theme of collective memory, triggered a similar brain activity in the volunteers, clear finding, according to the researchers, that collective memory shapes individual memory.

The conclusion of the Insem researchers is that there is a clear relationship between collective memory and the brain mechanisms that make up individual memory.

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