Mnemicity: A Cognitive Gadget?

Publication Name

Perspectives on Psychological Science


Episodic representations can be entertained either as “remembered” or “imagined”—as outcomes of experience or as simulations of such experience. Here, we argue that this feature is the product of a dedicated cognitive function: the metacognitive capacity to determine the mnemicity of mental event simulations. We argue that mnemicity attribution should be distinguished from other metacognitive operations (such as reality monitoring) and propose that this attribution is a “cognitive gadget”—a distinctively human ability made possible by cultural learning. Cultural learning is a type of social learning in which traits are inherited through social interaction. In the case of mnemicity, one culturally learns to discriminate metacognitive “feelings of remembering” from other perceptual, emotional, action-related, and metacognitive feelings; to interpret feelings of remembering as indicators of memory rather than imagination; and to broadcast the interpreted feelings in culture- and context-specific ways, such as “I was there” or “I witnessed it myself.” We review evidence from the literature on memory development and scaffolding, metacognitive learning and teaching, as well as cross-cultural psychology in support of this view before pointing out various open questions about the nature and development of mnemicity highlighted by our account.

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