For sociologists, individual memories are formed by the collective consciousness of the community. Thus far, this phenomenon had never been studied at the neurobiological level. Inserm researchers Pierre Gagnepain and Francis Eustache have analyzed the collective representations of World War II in France using mind imaging to show how collective memory shapes individual memory. Their conclusions have been released in Nature Human Behavior.
In the past century, French sociologist Maurice Halbwachs declared that personal memories are affected by their social contexts. From this perspective, the memory function of individuals can’t be understood without considering the group to which they belong and the social contexts related to collective memory.
Until now, these theories had by no means been examined by neuroscientists. Inserm researchers Pierre Gagnepain and Francis Eustache, in affiliation with their colleagues from the Matrice venture guided by CNRS historian Denis Peschanski, took a closer look at utilizing brain imaging methods. For the first time, they’ve shown in the brain the link between collective memory and special memories. Their innovative study has been revealed in Nature Human Behaviour.
Collective memory consists of symbols, accounts, narratives, and images that build community identity. To analyze this idea further, the researchers began by examining the media coverage of WWII to establish the shared collective representations related to it. They studied the content of three decades of WWII reports and documentaries broadcast and transcribed on French television between 1980 and 2010.
Using an algorithm, they investigated this unprecedented corpus and identified groups of words frequently used when discussing main themes related to the collective reminiscence of WWII, such as the D-Day Landings.