Human Memory Processes for Identifying 'When'


Friedman (1993, 2004) argued that people most commonly use location-based and distance-based strategies to identify 'when' an event occurred. Location-based processes rely on the retrieval of information encoded about an event and where possible, linking this information with our knowledge of social, natural and personal time patterns to identify when the event occurred. Distance-based strategies assume that some quality of memory changes with the passage of time and provides clues to the age of an event. Recent research using experience sampling methods, found that people seemed to rely on a general feeling of age (distance-based) when attempting to remember when they sent a social media post (O’Donnell, 2021), while Dennis et al. (2017) found that people seemed to rely on specific aspects of the experience (location-based) when trying to remember when they were at certain locations. It is possible that the cue (i.e., location vs. social media posts) provided varying degrees of contextual information, thereby making each cue more suited to a particular strategy. However, a recent review (Sreekumar et al., 2021) indicates that it is likely the specificity of the required response that influences the memory strategy used. Sreekumar et al. (2021) suggests that for coarser grained judgements, such as week, people use distance-based strategies, while for higher temporal fidelity (i.e., day-of-week) people used location-based strategies. This study will query people's memory for time using both social media posts and locations, in order to determine if people use different temporal memory strategies when presented with different cues and further examine the relationship with time scale.

Research Questions / Hypotheses

The purpose of this research was to investigate whether memory processes for ‘when’ differ depending on the type of cue presented and the specificity of the response required. It is expected that greater temporal fidelity responses (i.e., day-of-week and hour-of-day) will rely on location-based strategies, while more coarse-grained judgements (weeks) will rely on distance-based strategies. Additionally, social media and email cues are expected to have less contextual information that provide clues regarding time, compared to the location cues, and therefore will be more likely to rely on distance based strategies.


A total of 13 REP participants signed up to this study; of which 7 attended Part 1, and 6 did not attend. Of those who attended Part 1, 4 were excluded as they did not have Google Location Services switched on; 3 completed Part 1, with only 1 going on to complete Part 2 (memory test).


Participants were required to register a user account with Unforgettable Research Services (URS) and were asked to collect 30-days of Google Services Location, social media and email data. Each participant downloaded their data from the respective platforms and uploaded it to their Unforgettable Me account. Once uploaded the URS system created a personalised memory test that was accessed through their user account. The memory test asked participants to recall when a cue (social media post, email or location) occurred over a period of four weeks. Multiple trials were administered, requiring participants to indicate the week, day-of-week, and hour-of-day for each cue. It was estimated to take 30-60 minutes to complete the test. In Part 1 of this study, participants attended a zoom meeting with the researcher where they received instructions on how to download their Google location, social media and email data. Participants were also shown how to create an account and how to upload their data for the memory task. In Part 2, participants completed their unique memory task on the website.


This is an ongoing study. The results have not been analysed, but are expected to be in accordance with the above hypotheses.


Further data collection will occur over Semester 2 and will form the analysis for a Fourth Year Research Project.