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Personality Influences Our Memory of a Conversation

Personality Influences Our Memory of a Conversation For many of us, an argument or disagreement with our partner may be followed by what we perceive as selective memory of the event. That is, they may remember details of the conversation very differently than we do.

The tendency of our partner to remember things differently than we do may not be just them trying to be difficult. Rather, personality may affect how they (and we) remember relationship events (such as discussions).

This may lead to even more arguments, as we try to convince the other that our recollection of the argument is more correct then theirs.

It can be frustrating when our partners remember things differently than we do, but according to new research from Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, they are not trying to be difficult. Research has shown that our specific attachment style (that is, how anxious or avoidant we are in relationships) may affect many facets of our relationships.

Psychological scientists Jeffry Simpson from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities Campus; W. Steven Rholes of Texas A&M University; and Heike A. Winterheld from California State University, East Bay wanted to investigate how attachment styles affect memory for relationship events.

Couples participating in this experiment completed personality assessments and also listed problems in their relationship. They were videotaped as they discussed the two highest-ranking problems (one from each partner’s list).

Following the discussions, each participant completed a questionnaire on how supportive and emotionally distant they themselves felt immediately following the discussions. Then, the couples returned to the lab a week later and completed the same questionnaires, recalling how supportive and emotionally distant they had felt following the original discussions.

In addition, independent observers watched the discussions and rated the behavior of each partner according to how supportive, emotionally distant, and anxious they seemed to be.

Analysis of the results reveals that the way highly anxious and avoidant individuals remember certain events is based on their needs and goals for the relationship, but only if they were distressed when the memories were created.

More avoidant individuals remembered being less supportive one week following the discussion than they initially reported, but only if they been distressed during the discussions. Less avoidant individuals remembered being more supportive than they initially reported, but only if they had been distressed during the discussions.

The authors observe that “these findings are consistent with the needs and goals of highly avoidant people, who yearn to limit intimacy and maintain control and autonomy in their relationships.”

The authors add that these findings are also consistent with needs of less avoidant (that is, more secure) individuals, who want to increase intimacy in their relationships.

Less anxious individuals remembered being more distant than initially reported if they had been distressed during the discussions. More anxious individuals remembered being closer to their partners than they initially reported if they were distressed during the discussions.

The authors note that these results are consistent with anxious individuals’ need for closeness and security.

These findings indicate that what individuals respond to in relationships is not what was actually said or done during an interaction with their partner. Instead, what they respond to may be the memories of the interaction, as interpreted due to how anxious or avoidant they are.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Personality Influences Our Memory of a Conversation

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Personality Influences Our Memory of a Conversation. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 28 Jan 2010)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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