Social cryptomnesia

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Historically, social cryptomnesia has been used as a term to talk about the way movements don’t get credit for societal change. For instance, activists such feminism or the green movement don’t get credit for widespread acceptance of women’s rights or climate change. Instead politicians like Al Gore got the credit. Instead feminist groups and environmental groups are still stigmatised.

Hong Kong Protests 2019
Jonathan van Smit – Hong Kong Protests 2019

The BBC think that ideas espoused by groups like Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion maybe incorporated into mainstream thinking. Even as these organisations are demonised.

Although most of the discussion about social cryptomnesia revolves around activist groups, I think it’s bigger than that. We can see social cryptomnesia in wider cultural shifts. Hippies were thought of as soap dodgers and weed heads. Yet the values of free love and existentialism defined much of the behaviour change in mainstream society through the 1970s and into the 1980s.

Long after most punk rockers had shaved out their mohawk and put away their Vivienne Westwood bondage outfits; the DIY entrepreneur ethos lived on in media and publishing. You wouldn’t have had independent record labels, football fanzines or Vice magazine without punk.

Cryptomnesia is a term for when a forgotten memory is repackaged as one’s own. Think a lot of new age concepts like past lives, memory regression or alien abduction.

It also happens in more prosaic environments, where a memory is mistaken for an original thought. So when a colleague repeats something you said as their idea, they might genuinely believe its their idea rather than yours.

There has been a whole body of academic research done into the link between cryptomnesia and inadvertent plagiarism.

More posts in ‘Jargon Watch‘.

More information

Majority and Minority Influence: Societal Meaning and Cognitive Elaboration edited by Stamos Papastamou and Antonis Gardikiotis

Influence without credit: How successful minorities respond to social cryptomnesia. APA PsycNet

Cryptomnesia and Plagiarism – The British Journal of Psychiatry

Cryptomnesia: Delineating inadvertent plagiarism. By Brown, Alan S.,Murphy, Dana R. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, Vol 15(3), May 1989, 432-442

‘Social cryptomnesia’: How societies steal ideasBBC Future