Edge of an idea

One of the editors’ goals for their book ‘Conversation and Cognition’ (te Molder & Potter, 2005) was to draw out the differences of position within the field of discursive psychology, particularly with regards to the question of whether we can read from external features of conversation to internal mental states. The book is carefully structured and the third chapter is intended to represent one pole within the debate and the author, Coulter, argues forcefully that you can’t. (The chapter is titled ‘Language without Mind, which gives you hint about the authors intentions.)

Within his argument he makes an interesting point. He suggests that to try to relate features of talk to internal mental states is misguided because many times when we are engaged in conversation we are not thinking at all. By this, I take him to mean that we are not constructing our sentences in a considered or deliberative fashion. Instead, we often draw on a store of common conversational repertoire that we know to be appropriate to each moment. This reads like another way of talking about social scripts but with a strong emphasis on their ubiquity.

Working by analogy, I wonder, on a neural level,  are social scripts a form of procedural memory? If so, are do our brains deal with them utilising the same regions that they do for sensori-motor procedural memory? The latter seems remarkably resilient in the face of the cognitive slights caused by some forms of dementia (probably because of the involvement of the cerebellum) and this would  support the many observations that social scripts remain intact for a long time in someone’s life with dementia. It also supports the idea that it is worth exploring what cues exist for social, as well as sensori-motor, procedural memory when doing reminiscence work or creative work stimulated by reminiscence.


te Molder, H. & Potter, J. (2005) Conversation and Cognition, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press


About Bruce Davenport

Research associate at Newcastle University. Previously a museum educator and researcher.
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