Social operant conditioning of autobiographical memory sharing

N. Adelina, C.H.M. Chiu, K. Lam, Keisuke Takano, Tom Barry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The memories for past autobiographical experiences that we share can influence relationship formation and consolidation with important implications for our mental health. However, little is known about how people's responses to our memories can influence subsequent memory sharing. Previous research examined how operant processes (i.e., punishment with aversive sounds) influence the sharing of memories for specific events from our past. Understanding the (social) mechanisms associated with difficulty sharing specific autobiographical memories is important given the association between these difficulties and a range of psychiatric diagnoses. We investigate the effects of verbal and non-verbal social operants on the willingness to share specific autobiographical memories. Participants shared memories with a confederate who coded their memories as specific or non-specific and responded in either an engaged/attentive, dismissive manner or gave no feedback depending on participants' assigned condition. Participants who were reinforced for sharing specific memories and punished for sharing non-specific memories, were more likely to share specific than non-specific memories compared to those who received no feedback. Reinforcement alone was not sufficient for modifying specificity. The ways that we respond to people when they share memories with us can influence their subsequent willingness to share specific events from their past.
Original languageEnglish
Article number104385
Number of pages9
JournalBehaviour Research and Therapy
Early online date15 Aug 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to acknowledge the invaluable contributions of our confederates and coders, Kelly Chen Tse Jia, Larissa Louie Lok Chi and Harry Tsui Kam Hung.


  • Autobiographical memory
  • Memory specificity
  • Operant conditioning
  • Reinforcement learning
  • Social sharing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Clinical Psychology


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