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Underwood, J.D. Underwood, G. (2005). The selective nature of memory: Some effects of taking a verbal record A response to A. Plaut. J. Anal. Psychol., 50(1):59-67.

(2005). Journal of Analytical Psychology, 50(1):59-67

The selective nature of memory: Some effects of taking a verbal record A response to A. Plaut

Jean D. M. Underwood, Ph.D., FRSA and Geoffrey Underwood, Ph.D., DSc, FBP.S, FRSA


A.B.J Plaut's (1967) paper ‘On note taking’ is interesting to cognitive psychologists as it raises a number of thought provoking questions, some which we will discuss in this paper. The first of-these, however, is why he chose to question the accepted oral tradition of analysts and the consensus in the dynamic psychology literature of the undesirability of taking notes in a session' (Plaut 1967/2005, p. 45). He offers pragmatic reasons for this divergence, including the need for documentary evidence in legal disputes, to increase the efficiency of the analytic process and to produce an educational resource to use with trainee analysts. However, of more interest to us is his expressed desire both to learn from experimental psychology and to provide insights or explanations from dynamic psychology of empirical findings, that is, to begin to heal the schism within the discipline. Having applauded this commendable aim, some might find the following comments, which dispute a number of the assertions put forward by Plaut, as over critical but we are simply presenting evidence not then available to him in a spirit of achieving a ‘warming-up of relations’ (ibid., p. 56) to our mutual benefit. In the following commentary we will address the intriguing question of why note taking might corrupt a memory of an interview, or even erase it completely, and we start with a brief task analysis with the aim of understanding the demands placed upon the note taker.

The nature of note taking

Plaut's paper explores the costs and benefits of note taking for the analyst. But not all note taking is the same and it is appropriate here to discuss what the term note taking means by looking at what the activity involves.

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