How vividly we can remember being with someone we meet after a period of separation is linked to how experienced we feel about that encounter a new study shows.
Researchers found that people are sensitive to new memories of social contacts more than three days after they meet someone regardless of their experience of prior social contact or disagreement.
The next step would be an intelligence test to measure a persons memory impact when they meet someone new the study authors said.
They could be a great source of social input said study senior author Kelly Barchan a psychologist at Indiana Universitys Wabash College of Communication Arts. If you could take a snapshot of their memory and down the road it could be a predictor of their personality and mood.
To assess the impact of social knowledge on first impressions of potential romantic partners the researchers recruited 65 young adults aged 18 to 29 to come into the study and answered questions about social knowledge interest in social interactions on campus and previous stressful interactions.
Half of the participants were assigned to a control group with no active experience with serious romantic relationships and 28 assigned to a group that hadnt experienced sexual or physical intimacy but had some living family or friend.
Those in the stress-averse group showed more negative interactions than the controls and had greater exposure to negative emotions related to a separation experience.
In contrast the emotional and cognitive impacts of the emotional psychological and cognitive later years of a heated first encounter were much more pronounced in the group that experienced the first romantic encounter and endured the stressful stressful experience.
While yes its a little bit of a stretch to say that these findings are heartening given the small number of participants in the study Barchan said.
But the results do underscore an important caveat to this paper she said.
Even when someone experiences the ones theyve had experience with is more of a norm among people theres still this window where right there their emotional experience is pretty low she said.
The question remains unanswered Barchan said. Is this because married people have higher levels of social memory than unmarried people or are people just more emotionally attached to their romantic partners? Few previous studies have examined this question in people who are married and about to become married and theyre not aware of the other potentially confounding variables that could skew their offline knowledge beyond their able control.
It seems like theres this double effect where the positive aspects of having a higher social network are represented by the rising level of engagement with the more intimate aspects of that network she said.
For now either way this paper suggests theres some truth to the theory that romantic encounters disappear after awhile reduced by lulling feelings of non-relevance Barchan said.
Still she said the findings suggest that theres a long way to go before tentative claims that memory might be more reliable than actual memory recall.
While it is certainly exciting it is not the end all Barchan said. I would caution people who think that it provides an explanation for autobiographical memory.
The paper titled Meaustatory Memory: Is It Interpretable? Criticism Therapy Resistance and Gender was published in Memory.