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Psychology Autobiographical Memories
by
Qi Wang, Cagla Aydin, Jessica Zoe Klemfuss

Introduction

Autobiography as a literary genre has existed for centuries—with Augustine’s (354–430) Confessions being commonly regarded as the first Western autobiography—and has gained increasing popularity in the modern and postmodern eras. The scientific study of autobiographical memory, however, is relatively recent. Autobiographical memories, as the name itself reveals, can be literally taken as the memories that we would write about in our autobiography, if we ever decided to write one, so that we might tell people who we are and how we have become what we are. Autobiographical memories are the memories of significant personal events and experiences from an individual’s life. Research on autobiographical memory has grown with continuous momentum since the mid-1980s. This is in response to the call made by leading cognitive psychologists such as Ulric Neisser to study human memory in natural contexts. It also reflects the increasing interests in pop culture and the research community in life histories and narrative self-making. The rapid development in autobiographical memory research further signals the practical importance of such memory in clinical, legal, and everyday settings. The study of autobiographical memory is now a dynamic, interdisciplinary research field that encompasses exciting discoveries, theoretical debates, controversial issues, intriguing phenomena, and emerging interests. It attracts researchers from all sorts of psychological subdisciplines—cognitive, developmental, social and personality, cultural, clinical, neuroscience—as well as other social sciences and humanities. The first section of this bibliography introduces general overviews about autobiographical memory, focusing on the theoretical discussion concerning its definition, organization, and functioning. The following section on textbooks provides selected resources to help the reader gain initial access to the diverse theoretical and empirical approaches to autobiographical memory and related phenomena. The next section is devoted to methodology, introducing the commonly used methods in the study of autobiographical memory. The bibliography’s remaining sections examine particular issues, questions, and areas that are of current interest to researchers in this field.

General Overviews

Autobiographical memory is generally considered a subset of episodic memory. Episodic memory refers to the conscious recollection of specific events that took place at a particular point in time in the past, involving such information as what, where, and when. It supports the mental time travel of the self to relive previous experiences. Endel Tulving calls episodic memory “a true marvel of nature” (Tulving 2002, p. 3). Tulving views episodic memory as a major neurocognitive memory system distinct from semantic memory, which deals with context-free, general knowledge of the world. Not all episodic memories (e.g., where and what did you eat last Thursday) become part of one’s autobiographical history, however. Only those that are highly significant to the individual constitute autobiographical memories. Conway and Rubin 1993 highlights the personal relevance in their definition of autobiographical memory. Nelson 1993 discusses the functional importance of autobiographical memory from an evolutionary standpoint, emphasizing the unique role of such memory in defining the self and facilitating social integration. These three seminal articles are a good place to start in order to understand what autobiographical memory is.

  • Conway, Martin A., and David C. Rubin. 1993. The structure of autobiographical memory. In Theories of memory. Edited by Alan F. Collins, Susan E. Gathercole, Martin A. Conway, and Peter E. Morris, 103–137. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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    A theoretical discussion of the role of the self and personal relevance in autobiographical memory formation and retrieval. Relates the proposal to empirical work.

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  • Nelson, Katherine. 1993. The psychological and social origins of autobiographical memory. Psychological Science 4:7–14.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.1993.tb00548.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    With a particular focus on the development of autobiographical memory, this review piece situates the origins of memory in a sociocultural context. Provides a clear theoretical formulation of how language and narrative are integral in autobiographical memory development.

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  • Tulving, Endel. 2002. Episodic memory: From mind to brain. Annual Review of Psychology 53:1–25.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.psych.53.100901.135114Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    With a particular focus on mental time travel (autonoetic consciousness) as the core defining feature of episodic memory, this seminal article highlights differences between episodic and semantic memory and the development of the study of episodic memory (e.g., functional magnetic resonance imaging [fMRI] studies).

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Textbooks

While single-authored books provide a coherent discussion of a topic and can help the reader see the connections among different issues pertaining to the topic, edited volumes cover diverse theories, perspectives, and approaches. Both types of books selected in this section are suitable for would-be researchers and undergraduate and graduate students. For teaching purposes, empirical articles can be used to supplement the books, in order to provide concrete examples. The first single-authored book under the title of “autobiographical memory” was Conway 1990, which provides an overview of the field at the time of writing. Pillemer 1998 takes a functional perspective to discuss the characteristics of autobiographical memory and its impact on lives. Bauer 2007 traces the development of autobiographical memory from infancy to adulthood and provides a coherent picture of how and why autobiographical memory comes to be the way it is. The edited volume Neisser and Hyman 2000 is a collection of classic, must-read essays on autobiographical memory and related phenomena. The two edited volumes Rubin 1986 and Rubin 1996 include the contributions of leading researchers of autobiographical memory and offer a variety of theories, perspectives, and approaches that were influential at the time of writing, and many are still applicable in the current context. Fivush and Haden 2003 is a unique collection of articles by leading researchers that present developmental and cultural perspectives on autobiographical memory. In a recent collection, Mace 2010 focuses on the retrieval process of autobiographical memory and discusses a number of theoretical and methodological issues.

Methodology

A variety of methods have been used to study autobiographical memory. Rubin and Wenzel 2005 details the six most commonly used methods in autobiographical memory research (see Rubin 2005) and their applications with clinical populations (see Wenzel 2005).

  • Rubin, David C. 2005. Autobiographical memory tasks in cognitive research. In Cognitive methods and their application to clinical research. Edited by Amy Wenzel and David C. Rubin, 219–241. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    DOI: 10.1037/10870-000Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Offers an inclusive definition of autobiographical memory, and describes various methodologies and how they are related to differing conceptions of autobiographical memory.

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  • Rubin, David C., and Amy Wenzel. 2005. Autobiographical memory tasks: Six common methods. In Cognitive methods and their application to clinical research. Edited by Amy Wenzel and David C. Rubin, 215–217. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    DOI: 10.1037/10870-000Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this chapter, the authors provide an overview of the primary methods used to assess autobiographical memories. This background is useful for understanding the subsequent chapters.

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  • Wenzel, Amy. 2005. Autobiographical memory tasks in clinical research. In Cognitive methods and their application to clinical research. Edited by Amy Wenzel and David C. Rubin, 243–264. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    DOI: 10.1037/10870-015Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This chapter is a useful tool for cognitive researchers who are interested in conducting clinical research or for clinical researchers who are interested in using cognitive tasks in their research.

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Brain Mechanisms

Recent neuropsychological and neuroimaging studies have provided new insight into the brain processes underlying the encoding, consolidation, storage, and retrieval of autobiographical memory. This is a vastly growing area where new findings are being generated every day. Cabeza and St. Jacques 2007 is a succinct review of functional neuroimaging studies of autobiographical memory and an excellent starting point. In addition, some recent empirical articles and reviews are selected here to exemplify important new developments in the understanding of the neural basis of memory processes. Rubin 2005 proposes that the various forms of information—visual, auditory, olfactory, spatial, linguistic, emotional, and narrative—that constitute our autobiographical recollection operate in separate systems, each supported by unique neural substrates, and that these systems interact in initial encoding and binding processes and later memory reconstruction. Poppenk, et al. 2010 shows a functional specialization within the hippocampus that allows existing memories to facilitate the formation of new ones during encoding. Ritchey, et al. 2011 identifies two distinct activation patterns that involve, respectively, the amygdala and the prefrontal context during the encoding of emotional memory. Winocur, et al. 2010 reviews recent evidence in humans and animals to provide a new account of the role of the hippocampus in memory consolidation. Ciaramelli, et al. 2010 suggests that the dorsal parietal cortex (DPC) and the ventral parietal cortex (VPC) are differentially engaged in memory retrieval. Cabeza, et al. 2004 demonstrates that the retrieval of autobiographical events involves self-referential processing and associated medial prefrontal regions. St. Jacques, et al. 2008 tests how different prefrontal regions contribute to ordering autobiographical events in time.

  • Cabeza, Roberto, and Peggy St. Jacques. 2007. Functional neuroimaging of autobiographical memory. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 11:219–227.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2007.02.005Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Concise overview of recent developments in the neuropsychology of autobiographical memory; including methods using functional neuroimaging, and main topics of investigation— e.g., self-referential processing in the brain, emotionality, specificity and vividness of memories.

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  • Cabeza, Roberto, Steve E. Prince, Sander M. Daselaar, Daniel L. Greenberg, Matthew Budde, Florin Dolcos, Kevin S. LaBar, and David C. Rubin. 2004. Brain activity during episodic retrieval of autobiographical and laboratory events: An fMRI study using a novel photo paradigm. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 16:1583–1594.

    DOI: 10.1162/0898929042568578Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A clever experimental design to demonstrate the activation of regions related to self-referential retrieval in the brain (e.g., medial PFC) by differentiating between laboratory-generated and actual autobiographical events.

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  • Ciaramelli, Elisa, Cheryl Grady, Brian Levine, Jon Ween, and Morris Moscovitch. 2010. Top-down and bottom-up attention to memory are dissociated in posterior parietal cortex: Neuroimaging and neuropsychological evidence. Journal of Neuroscience 30:4643–4956.

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    Important for providing combined evidence from both functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and lesion studies. Demonstrates that memory retrieval involves differential engagement of the dorsal parietal cortex (DPC), when searching for relevant memories, and the ventral parietal cortex (VPC), when detecting memory contents.

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  • Poppenk, Jordan, Anthony R. McIntosh, Fergus I. M. Craik, and Morris Moscovitch. 2010. Past experience modulates the neural mechanisms of episodic memory formation. Journal of Neuroscience 30:4707–4716.

    DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5466-09.2010Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Unique for examining interactions in encoding mechanisms for new memories, and showed a regional specialization for novel and familiar (repeated) event encoding within the hippocampus. Reports neural-level evidence for the role existing memories play in new memory formation.

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  • Ritchey, Maureen, Kevin S. LaBar, and Roberto Cabeza. 2011. Level of processing modulates the neural correlates of emotional memory formation. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 23:757–771.

    DOI: 10.1162/jocn.2010.21487Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Demonstrates how emotional memory formation, specifically, the effect of arousal on memory, is promoted by two distinct levels of processing—namely, an amygdala component that is activated during shallow encoding, and a prefrontal component that is involved during deep encoding.

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  • Rubin, David C. 2005. A basic-systems approach to autobiographical memory. Current Directions in Psychological Science 14:79–83.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.0963-7214.2005.00339.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents an integrative approach for various components of autobiographical memory such as language, emotion, and phenomenology. Argues for the centrality of recollective imagery in integrating memory to one’s life story with applications to clinical disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

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  • St. Jacques, Peggy, David C. Rubin, Kevin S. LaBar, and Roberto Cabeza. 2008. The short and long of it: Neural correlates of temporal-order memory for autobiographical events. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 20:1327–1341.

    DOI: 10.1162/jocn.2008.20091Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An interesting demonstration of neural processes activated by two processes of memory retrieval (recollection and familiarity) and how they contribute to the temporal ordering of autobiographical memories.

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  • Winocur, Gordon, Morris Moscovitch, and Bruno Bontempi. 2010. Memory formation and long-term retention in humans and animals: Convergence towards a transformation account of hippocampal–neocortical interactions. Neuropsychologia 48:2339–2356.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2010.04.016Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Provides evidence for a transformation process in memory. The perspective offered here is that the memory system is dependent on the hippocampus over a longer period than previously proposed and that the hippocampus is responsible for creation of a gist representation of to-be-remembered information.

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Autobiographical Memory in Early Childhood

Recent research has demonstrated substantial long-term memory competence for autobiographical events in young toddlers and preschoolers. Although a number of theories have been proposed to explain the development of autobiographical memory in early childhood, there is a general consensus among researchers for a pluralistic account that views autobiographical memory as a product of multiple interactive factors. The selected readings represent the major theoretical perspectives. Nelson and Fivush 2004 discusses multiple components, particularly the role of language, narrative, and adult-child joint reminiscing of past events, that are responsible for the emergence and development of autobiographical memory across the preschool years. Howe and Courage 1997 proposes that the development of a cognitive self at the end of the second year provides an organizational structure to represent information relevant to “me” and is therefore a critical precursor to the emergence of autobiographical memory. Welch-Ross 2001 argues that the onset of autobiographical memory may require a more sophisticated self-conceptual system that involves the understanding of the self as continuous in time and an evaluative self-awareness of one’s own qualities and attributes. Newcombe, et al. 2007 takes a cognitive neuroscience perspective to discuss autobiographical memory in relation to other types of memories that develop in the early years of life. Perner 2001 suggests that the ability to appreciate memories as reexperiences of the past contributes to the development of autobiographical memory in preschoolers. Reese 2002 analyzes the complex interaction between the developing self, emerging language abilities, and adult-child narrative interactions that influences early autobiographical memory development. Wang 2006 proposes that culturally prioritized goals for remembering and the associated practices act to produce varied forms and contents in children’s autobiographical memory. Bauer 2007 provides a synthesis of the developmental literature and the different theoretical perspectives, and elaborates on the contribution of brain maturation and narrative skill to the development of autobiographical memory in preschoolers. The study of early memory development has provided important insight into the phenomenon of childhood amnesia (see Childhood Amnesia).

  • Bauer, Patricia J. 2007. Remembering the times of our lives: Memory in infancy and beyond. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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    An excellent synthesis of theoretical perspectives and empirical findings on autobiographical memory development. The works listed here present additional detailed theoretical descriptions by the primary theorists in each approach.

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  • Howe, Mark L., and Mary L. Courage. 1997. The emergence and early development of autobiographical memory. Psychological Review 104:499–523.

    DOI: 10.1037/0033-295X.104.3.499Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents a framework focusing on the emergence of a “cognitive self” at the end of the second year as the driving force in the organization of autobiographical memories and the wane of childhood amnesia.

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  • Nelson, Katherine, and Robyn Fivush. 2004. The emergence of autobiographical memory: A social cultural developmental theory. Psychological Review 111:486–511.

    DOI: 10.1037/0033-295X.111.2.486Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors examine a variety of factors that contribute to autobiographical memory development. Propose a comprehensive theory that emphasizes the influence of narrative practices and culture on the processes of autobiographical remembering.

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  • Newcombe, Nora S., Marianne E. Lloyd, and Kristin R. Ratliff. 2007. Development of episodic and autobiographical memory: A cognitive neuroscience perspective. In Advances in child development and behavior. Vol. 35. Edited by Robert V. Kail, 37–85. San Diego, CA: Elsevier.

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    Provide evidence from the cognitive neuroscience approach to explain some major controversies in the field of autobiographical memory development (e.g., infantile/childhood amnesia).

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  • Perner, Josef. 2001. Episodic memory: Essential distinctions and developmental implications. In The self in time: Developmental perspectives. Edited by Chris Moore and Karen Lemmon, 181–202. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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    Reviews findings and proposes that the awareness of prior experience is a critical factor for autobiographical memory development, and it emerges between the ages of three and five.

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  • Reese, Elaine. 2002. A model of the origins of autobiographical memory. In Progress in infancy research. Vol. 2. Edited by Jeffrey Fagen and Harlene Hayne, 215–260. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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    A useful reading concerning multiple factors that interact to contribute to autobiographical memory development. Reese’s theoretical framework integrates self-recognition, mother-child interaction style, language, and narrative skill in the development of autobiographical memory.

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  • Wang, Qi. 2006. Culture and the development of self-knowledge. Current Directions in Psychological Science 15.4: 182–187.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8721.2006.00432.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents evidence that cultural beliefs embedded in the larger context and mediated in family socialization practices have a significant impact on autobiographical memory development.

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  • Welch-Ross, Melissa. 2001. Personalizing the temporally extended self: Evaluative self-awareness and the development of autobiographical memory. In The self in time: Developmental perspectives. Edited by Chris Moore and Karen Lemmon, 97–120. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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    Examines the relations of more advanced forms of self-knowledge, including the temporally extended self, the evaluative self-awareness, and the internal self-consistency, to autobiographical memory development.

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Childhood Amnesia

Childhood amnesia, also called infantile amnesia, refers to the common inability among adults to consciously recall autobiographical memories from the first years of life. Given that the characteristics of children’s memory operation have obvious implications for long-term accessibility of early memories from adulthood, it is almost impossible to talk about childhood amnesia without discussing early memory development, and vice versa. The reader should therefore refer to Autobiographical Memory in Early Childhood for theoretical accounts related to childhood amnesia. Articles selected in this section provide additional theoretical perspectives as well as some of the recent empirical findings that shed new light on this phenomenon. Wetzler and Sweeney 1986 shows that childhood amnesia is associated with accelerated forgetting of memories from the first years of life. Rubin 2000 demonstrates that childhood amnesia is similarly observed regardless of participant age, gender, and test method. Pillemer and White 1989 examines the corresponding characteristics of children’s memory and adults’ retrospective recollection of childhood events, based on which they propose a dual memory-system account for childhood amnesia. Wang 2003 reviews cross-cultural differences in accessing early childhood memories and suggests five explanations for these differences. Simcock and Hayne 2002 highlights the profound effect of language on the representation and later accessibility of early memories. Recent research has started to investigate childhood amnesia in children. Particularly notably, Bauer, et al. 2007 uses a cue-word method to examine the age distribution of early memories generated by children. Peterson, et al. 2011 takes a longitudinal approach to study children’s earliest memoires. Jack, et al. 2009 provides direct evidence that the style of early parent-child reminiscing influences the severity of childhood amnesia in adolescents.

  • Bauer, Patricia J., Melissa M. Burch, Sarah E. Scholin, and O. Evren Güler. 2007. Using cue words to investigate the distribution of autobiographical memories in childhood. Psychological Science 18:910–916.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2007.01999.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents evidence that unlike adults’ memory, children’s memory traces remain vulnerable to forgetting over time and therefore may not consolidate. This evidence is proposed as an explanation for childhood amnesia.

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  • Jack, Fiona, Shelley MacDonald, Elaine Reese, and Harlene Hayne. 2009. Maternal reminiscing style during early childhood predicts the age of adolescents’ earliest memories. Child Development 80.2: 496–505.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2009.01274.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents evidence on the long-term impact of maternal reminiscing style on the quality of adolescents’ childhood memories and childhood amnesia.

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  • Peterson, Carole, Kelly L. Warren, and Megan M. Short. 2011. Infantile amnesia across the years: A 2-year follow-up of children’s earliest memories. Child Development 82.4 :1092–1105.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2011.01597.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Looks at changes in the timing and content of children’s first memories over time.

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  • Pillemer, David B., and Sheldon H. White. 1989. Childhood events recalled by children and adults. In Advances in child development and behavior. Vol. 21. Edited by Hayne W. Reese, 297–340. New York: Academic.

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    A review and synthesis of studies on children’s autobiographical memory and adults’ childhood recollection. This chapter clearly defines the phenomenon of childhood amnesia and proposes a dual-memory-system theory.

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  • Rubin, David C. 2000. The distribution of early childhood memories. Memory 8:265–269.

    DOI: 10.1080/096582100406810Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Demonstrates that childhood amnesia is a robust phenomenon across people of different ages and genders and different studies and methods for sampling memories.

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  • Simcock, Gabrielle, and Harlene Hayne. 2002. Breaking the barrier? Children fail to translate their preverbal memories into language. Psychological Science 13:225–231.

    DOI: 10.1111/1467-9280.00442Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Provides evidence that children are not able to translate preverbal memories to verbal memories even when they have the language ability to do so.

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  • Wang, Qi. 2003. Infantile amnesia reconsidered: A cross-cultural analysis. Memory 11:165–180.

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    A comprehensive review of the theoretical explanations of childhood amnesia with a cross-cultural lens. Evaluates and extends major theories on childhood amnesia and describes possible operations of culture on this phenomenon.

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  • Wetzler, Scott E., and John A. Sweeney. 1986. Childhood amnesia: An empirical demonstration. In Autobiographical memory. Edited by David Rubin, 191–201. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511558313Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A widely referred demonstration of the existence of childhood amnesia. The researchers compare the actual number of memories with the expected number of memories from the first five years of life based on retention processes.

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Life Narratives in Adolescence and Adulthood

Autobiographical memory continues to develop beyond early childhood. This is particularly reflected in the development from remembering single events in preschoolers to constructing life narratives in adolescents and young adults. McAdams 1985 proposes that coherent life narratives emerge in adolescence in the process of constructing a self-identity. A widely cited review article, Habermas and Bluck 2000 discusses the cognitive and social constraints for the development of the life story in adolescence. McLean and Pasupathi 2010 assembles a group of leading researchers in this area to further identify critical factors in the development of life narratives in adolescence and the consequences of deficits in such development. Berntsen and Bohn 2009 argues that the development of life story abilities is influenced by the acquisition of cultural life scripts about what a prototypical life course should be like. McAdams and Adler 2010 provides a recent synthesis of the research on narrative identity development and the implications for clinical practices.

  • Berntsen, Dorthe, and Annette Bohn. 2009. Cultural life scripts and individual life stories. In Memory in mind and culture. Edited by Pascal Boyer and James V. Wertsch, 62–82. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    While the concept of script—an integrated system of knowledge—has been around for decades, this chapter embeds the concept within culture and applies the concept to autobiographical memories. The authors argue that the way that people think about and remember their life stories is heavily influenced by the culture they identify with. Norms and social mores provide the template into which people tend to fit their personal experiences.

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  • Habermas, Tilmann, and Susan Bluck. 2000. Getting a life: The emergence of the life story in adolescence. Psychological Bulletin 126:748–769.

    DOI: 10.1037/0033-2909.126.5.748Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Expands on McAdams 1985, and that work’s concept of the personal life story and identity development. Presents recent research evidence that the ability to create a coherent life story and the motivation to do so both appear in adolescence. This evidence supports McAdams’s claim that narrative and identity development begin in adolescence.

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  • McAdams, Dan P. 1985. Power, intimacy, and the life story: Personological inquiries into identity. Homewood, IL: Dorsey.

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    Proposes that personal narratives are closely linked to identity and that both are of central concern to developing adults. This book discusses narrative and identity development throughout the lifecourse and suggests that both personal narrative construction and identity development begin in adolescence.

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  • McAdams, Dan P., and Jonathan M. Adler. 2010. Autobiographical memory and the construction of a narrative identity: Theory, research, and clinical implications. In Social psychological foundations of clinical psychology. Edited by James E. Maddux and June Tangney, 36–50. New York: Guilford.

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    Discusses the proposal that peoples’ life stories are more like rough drafts than final versions. People revise and rewrite their histories in meaningful ways. The authors argue that a person’s autobiography is synonymous with that person’s identity and the clinical implication is that by helping a person rewrite his or her life story, one can alter that person’s identity.

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  • McLean, Kate, and Monisha Pasupathi, eds. 2010. Narrative development in adolescence: Creating the storied self. New York: Springer.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-0-387-89825-4Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In-depth coverage of personal narratives and identity development in adolescents. This book is useful for anyone who is interested in narrative development at a key point in identity formation. The book also reviews the implications of narrative construction on well-being and overall development.

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Autobiographical Memory and Aging

Research on autobiographical memory in the aging population has brought both “good” news and “bad” news. On the bright side, older adults show a positive bias in remembering the personal past, selectively focusing on positive information and eliminating negative information. Mather 2006 suggests that this positivity effect in memory results from a motivational process and enhances well-being. Singer, et al. 2007 demonstrates that older adults tend to draw integrative meaning from their personal memories to achieve a sense of identity and continuity. Similarly, McLean 2008 finds that life narratives of older adults have greater coherence and stability than those of younger adults. Bauer and Park 2010 reviews the literature and suggests that growth-oriented autobiographical narratives are common among older adults and that such narratives facilitate well-being and resilience in older adulthood. On the negative side, older adults show decreased ability to access specific episodic details of past events and thus tend to recall overgeneral memories. Levine, et al. 2002 demonstrates this phenomenon by comparing the retrieval of episodic details between younger and older adults. The decreased memory specificity in older adults has been shown to be related to reduced performance in executive functions and working memory (Piolino, et al. 2010) and aging-related changes in hippocampal activation during autobiographical memory retrieval (Maguire and Frith 2003). Interestingly, Schlagman, et al. 2009 shows that the positive bias and the decreased specificity are not equally evident in the voluntary and involuntary memories of older adults (see Involuntary Memory).

  • Bauer, Jack J., and Sun W. Park. 2010. Growth is not just for the young: Growth narratives, eudaimonic resilience, and the aging self. In New frontiers in resilient aging: Life-strengths and well-being in late life. Edited by Prem S. Fry and Corey L. M. Keyes, 60–89. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Describes the counterintuitive finding that older adults, like younger adults, include content about gain and growth in their personal narratives. Suggests that memories involving growth are associated with positive outcomes for older adults.

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  • Levine, Brian, Eva Svoboda, Janine F. Hay, Gordon Winocur, and Morris Moscovitch. 2002. Aging and autobiographical memory: Dissociating episodic from semantic retrieval. Psychology and Aging 17:677–689.

    DOI: 10.1037/0882-7974.17.4.677Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Demonstrates the effectiveness of a new measure of autobiographical memory in capturing and distinguishing details related to a specific time and place (episodic) or related to general information (semantic). Consistent with previous studies, older adults focused on semantic details and younger adults focused on episodic details.

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  • Maguire, Eleanor A., and Christopher D. Frith. 2003. Aging affects the engagement of the hippocampus during autobiographical memory retrieval. Brain: A Journal of Neurology 126:1511–1523.

    DOI: 10.1093/brain/awg157Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    One of few studies examining brain function during autobiographical memory retrieval in older adults. When recalling autobiographical events, older adults showed additional activation in the hippocampus compared to younger adults.

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  • Mather, Mara. 2006. Why memories may become more positive as people age. In Memory and emotion: Interdisciplinary perspectives. Edited by Bob Uttl, Nobuo Ohta, and Amy L. Siegenthaler,135–158. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

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    Describes the finding that people tend to focus on more emotionally positive memories as they age (the positivity effect) and describes theoretical explanations for that finding.

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  • McLean, Kate C. 2008. Stories of the young and the old: Personal continuity and narrative identity. Developmental Psychology 44:254–264.

    DOI: 10.1037/0012-1649.44.1.254Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Uses autobiographical memory reports to examine differences in representations of the self across the life-span. Older adults demonstrated more stability themes in their memories and discussed more connections between major life events compared with adolescents and young adults.

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  • Piolino, Pascale, Cecile Coste, Penelope Martinelli, Anne-Laure Macé, Peggy Quinette, Berengere Guillery-Girard, and Sylvie Belleville. 2010. Reduced specificity of autobiographical memory and aging: Do the executive and feature binding functions of working memory have a role? Neuropsychologia 48:429–440.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2009.09.035Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines mechanisms for the episodic memory deficit in older adults (also see Levine, et al. 2002). Declines in some components of executive functioning and working memory may be partially responsible for declines in episodic memory in older adults.

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  • Schlagman, Simone, Matthias Kliegel, Jorg Schulz, and Lia Kvavilashvili. 2009. Differential effects of age on involuntary and voluntary autobiographical memory. Psychology and Aging 24:397–411.

    DOI: 10.1037/a0015785Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Compares the number, timing, and content of voluntary and involuntary memories across adulthood.

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  • Singer, Jefferson, Blerim Rexhaj, and Jenna Baddeley. 2007. Older, wiser, and happier? Comparing older adults’ and college students’ self-defining memories. Memory 15:886–898.

    DOI: 10.1080/09658210701754351Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Identifies differences in the content of self-defining memories between young and older adults.

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Reminiscence Bump

When adults (aged about thirty-five years and older) recall specific memories or other types of autobiographical knowledge from across their life-span, in either free or cued recall, the distribution of their memories exhibits an increase, or bump, from the ages of ten to thirty. In other words, people recall a disproportionately large number of personal events from their adolescence and early adulthood. The reminiscence bump was first observed in Franklin and Holding 1977, and in a meta-analysis further explored and originally named by Rubin, et al. 1986. Although the reminiscence bump has been extensively investigated and is considered one of the most reliable phenomena in cognitive psychology, its causes remain unclear. Rubin, et al. 1998 provides an excellent review of the literature and entertains several possible accounts for the reminiscence bump. Berntsen and Rubin 2002 considers additional possible explanations for the phenomenon. Conway and Pleydell-Pearce 2000 attributes the reminiscence bump to the establishment of a stable self-identity in adolescence and young adulthood. Glück and Bluck 2007 puts forth a life-story account for the reminiscence bump.

  • Berntsen, Dorthe, and David C. Rubin. 2002. Emotionally charged autobiographical memories across the life span: The recall of happy, sad, traumatic and involuntary memories. Psychology and Aging 17:636–652.

    DOI: 10.1037/0882-7974.17.4.636Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines whether there are differences in the life-span distributions of autobiographical memories in terms of the emotional valence and involuntary status of the memories. The authors use the findings to suggest that any theoretical explanation for the reminiscence bump needs to take into account the emotional valence of the memories.

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  • Conway, Martin A., and Christopher W. Pleydell-Pearce. 2000. The construction of autobiographical memories in the self-memory system. Psychological Review 107:261–288.

    DOI: 10.1037/0033-295X.107.2.261Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Articulates on a self-memory system that consists of an autobiographical knowledge base and current goals of the self, which explains the pattern of memory sampling across the life-span.

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  • Franklin, H. C., and D. H. Holding. 1977. Personal memories at different ages. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 29:527–532.

    DOI: 10.1080/14640747708400628Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The first study to identify the life-span retrieval curve using a cue-word method.

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  • Glück, Judith, and Susan Bluck. 2007. Looking back across the life span: A life story account of the reminiscence bump. Memory and Cognition 35:1928–1939.

    DOI: 10.3758/BF03192926Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents evidence for a life story account of reminiscence bump that integrates some of the central components of previous accounts, such as self-narrative identity account and the life-script account.

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  • Rubin, David C., Tamara A. Rahhal, and Leonard W. Poon. 1998. Things learned in early adulthood are remembered best. Memory & Cognition 26:3–19.

    DOI: 10.3758/BF03211366Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    One of the most influential papers in this field of study, which demonstrates that the reminiscence bump for autobiographical memories extends to other types of memories, such as semantic memory or general world knowledge. In light of these findings, a cognition-based explanation of the bump phenomenon is suggested after reviewing other possible accounts.

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  • Rubin, David C., Scott E. Wetzler, and Robert D. Nebes. 1986. Autobiographical memory across the adult lifespan. In Autobiographical Memory. Edited by David C. Rubin, 202–221. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511558313.018Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A pioneering text that reviews and evaluates initial evidence for the life-span distribution curve for autobiographical memories and its components (e.g., childhood amnesia, reminiscence bump). The authors merge data from individual studies that focus on different age periods of the life-span and utilize the cue-word technique to elicit memories.

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Flashbulb Memory

Flashbulb memory refers to the vivid, detailed, and long-lasting remembering of the reception context of public news events, such as where one was, what time of the day it was, and how one learned the news. Since it was first studied and named by Brown and Kulik 1977, researchers have been trying to answer the question of whether flashbulb memory is really special in its underlying mechanism and quality. There are a number of excellent books that can provide the reader with a general understanding of this active research area. Winograd and Neisser 1992 includes contributions by leading memory researchers and covers a wide range of issues related to flashbulb memory. Conway 1995 provides a critical review of the research and proposes a cognitive account of the formation of flashbulb memory. More recently, Luminet and Curci 2009 provides an update on the developments in this area and presents new data and new theoretical models by expert contributors of diverse approaches. Because the public news events (e.g., the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the 9/11 terrorist attacks) are often emotionally intense and traumatic, emotion is generally considered to be a critical factor in the formation of flashbulb memory. The reader should refer to Emotional Memory and Memory for Trauma for additional references. Some readings under Collective Memory are also relevant.

  • Brown, Robert, and James Kulik. 1977. Flashbulb memories. Cognition 5:73–99.

    DOI: 10.1016/0010-0277(77)90018-XSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A seminal paper that first proposed a special encoding mechanism responsible for the formation of flashbulb memories. Also known as the study that coined the term flashbulb memory.

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  • Conway, Martin A. 1995. Flashbulb memories. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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    An integrative volume on the theoretical and empirical status of flashbulb memory research. Reviews different accounts for the existence of flashbulb memories and includes chapters that focus on evidence from clinical studies and functions of flashbulb memories.

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  • Luminet, Olivier, and Antonietta Curci. 2009. Flashbulb memories: New issues and new perspectives. New York: Psychology Press.

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    A comprehensive review of recent developments in the field. Covers topics such as new models of flashbulb memory formation, contributions of new methods (e.g., neuroscience), and operations of culture in flashbulb memory mechanisms. For advanced readers, this is a succinct entry to the topic of flashbulb memory that bridges individual and collective memories.

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  • Winograd, Eugene, and Ulric Neisser. 1992. Affect and accuracy in recall: Studies of “flashbulb” memories. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511664069Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A classic edited volume that provides a reevaluation of the flashbulb memory hypothesis since it was first put forward by Brown and Kulik 1977. Includes sections on the influence of affect and emotion on the formation of flashbulb memories, and on issues concerning the accuracy of flashbulb memories.

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Autobiographical Memory and the Self

One defining feature of autobiographical memory is its relevance and importance to the self. There has been a great deal of theoretical discussion on how the self modulates the remembering of personal experiences. Some of the classic work includes Greenwald 1980 and Ross 1989. More recently, the most influential theory on this topic is arguably the self-memory system theory of autobiographical memory proposed by Conway and Pleydell-Pearce 2000, which has been used to explain a variety of phenomena such as Childhood Amnesia, Reminiscence Bump, Emotional Memory and Memory for Trauma, and so on. Wang 2006 discusses the influence of cultural self-views on autobiographical memory and its development. On the other side of the issue, researchers have looked into the constructive process of autobiographical memories and life stories that constitute an individual’s self-identity. Bruner 1990 provides a perfect example of this perspective and is considered by some the initiation of the field of cultural psychology. Many readings in Life Narratives in Adolescence and Adulthood pertain to this perspective. Singer and Salovey 1993 proposes the concept of self-defining memory, which has generated much empirical research. Beike, et al. 2004 puts together an excellent collection of essays on the memory-self interplay in relation to narrative, emotion, and time. Fivush and Haden 2003 highlights developmental and cultural perspectives on the link between self and memory.

  • Beike, Denise R., James R. Lampinen, and Douglas A. Behrend, eds. 2004. The self and memory. New York: Psychology Press.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203337974Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A collection of chapters that focus on the ways in which autobiographical memories and the self are interrelated. Takes a bidirectional stance and demonstrates that memory can influence self-concept, and self-concept can influence what and how we remember.

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  • Bruner, Jerome. 1990. Acts of meaning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    A series of lectures that discuss the importance of meaning-making in the study of autobiographical memory and self. The lectures emphasize the role of context, and particularly of culture, in the formation and revision of autobiographical memory and self-concept.

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  • Conway, Martin A., and Christopher W. Pleydell-Pearce. 2000. The construction of autobiographical memories in the self-memory system. Psychological Review 107:261–288.

    DOI: 10.1037/0033-295X.107.2.261Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Proposes a model of autobiographical memory in which people’s active self-goals and knowledge interact to produce biased autobiographical memories. This self-memory system theory is influential and incorporates several fields and perspectives.

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  • Fivush, Robyn, and Catherine A. Haden, eds. 2003. Autobiographical memory and the construction of a narrative self: Developmental and cultural perspectives. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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    Selected authors discuss the roles of language and social interaction in the relationship between autobiographical memory and self across development. Places autobiographical memories in a sociocultural perspective.

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  • Greenwald, Anthony G. 1980. The totalitarian ego: Fabrication and revision of personal history. American Psychologist 35:603–618.

    DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.35.7.603Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that self-concept biases our knowledge base and that this bias serves to organize information in our knowledge base. Three types of biases are proposed and are also shown to occur at more macro levels of information structures.

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  • Ross, Michael. 1989. Relation of implicit theories to the construction of personal histories. Psychological Review 96:341–357.

    DOI: 10.1037/0033-295X.96.2.341Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents findings supporting the hypotheses that people have theories about their personal qualities and that these theories bias autobiographical memories. In other words, people shape their autobiographical memories to fit with existing self-concepts.

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  • Singer, Jefferson A., and Peter Salovey. 1993. The remembered self: Emotion and memory in personality. New York: Free Press.

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    Links personality, social, clinical, and cognitive psychology into an integrated view of identity and memory. Demonstrates how some memories shape our identities and how memories are influenced by our goals.

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  • Wang, Qi. 2006. Culture and the development of self-knowledge. Current Directions in Psychological Science 15:182–187.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8721.2006.00432.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Provides evidence for three major claims about self-knowledge. First, children develop culture-specific autobiographical memory and self-concept early in life. Second, autobiographical memory and self-concept are reciprocal and interactive. Third, early narratives with others provide a means for children to incorporate cultural norms and expectations into their self-knowledge.

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Emotional Memory and Memory for Trauma

Because autobiographical memories are the memories that are personally relevant and significant to the individual, they are often characterized by emotion. Events that are emotionally charged, either positively or negatively, tend to be better remembered than those that engender little or no emotional reaction. On the other hand, some emotionally intense or traumatic events are associated with impaired recall. Christianson and Safer 1996, and Schooler and Eich 2000 provide excellent reviews of research on the effects of emotion on autobiographical memory. Issues related to eyewitness memory and Flashbulb Memory are also discussed. LaBar and Cabeza 2006 reviews research on the neural mechanisms, particularly the role of the amygdala, that underlie the privileged remembering of emotional events. Additional discussions of a variety of topics on the emotion-memory interplay, including autobiographical memory in psychopathology, can be found in McGaugh 2003, Reisberg and Hertel 2004, and Uttl, et al. 2006. In addition, Quas and Fivush 2009 and Howe, et al. 2008 discuss, from diverse perspectives, the influences of emotional distress and trauma on children’s memory and the implications for legal and clinical practices. The reader should refer to the section Autobiographical Memory in Psychopathology for additional readings on memory and trauma.

  • Christianson, Sven-Ake, and Martin A. Safer. 1996. Emotional events and emotions in autobiographical memories. In Remembering our past: Studies in autobiographical memory. Edited by David C. Rubin, 218–243. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511527913Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An inclusive review of the effects of emotion on autobiographical memory as well as memory for emotions. Argues for attention focused on the critical event details—tunnel memory—as an explanatory account for the existing evidence on emotion and memory.

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  • Howe, Mark L., Gail S. Goodman, and Dante Cicchetti. 2008. Stress, trauma, and children’s memory development: Neurobiological, cognitive, clinical, and legal perspectives. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    An extensive collection of essays on the relationship between trauma and childhood memory. Topics range from basic science questions, such as neurological correlates of traumatic memory, to practical issues, such as child interview techniques.

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  • LaBar, Kevin S., and Roberto Cabeza. 2006. Cognitive neuroscience of emotional memory. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 7:54–64.

    DOI: 10.1038/nrn1825Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A succinct summary of the contemporary research findings on the neural basis of emotion effects on recollection of personal experiences. Also distinguishes between different levels of emotion, such as arousal or valence, as well as different levels of memory, such as explicit and implicit memory.

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  • McGaugh, James L. 2003. Memory and emotion: The making of lasting memories. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    A concise and well-written book on experimental efforts—mostly lab studies with rats—to understand the relation between memory and emotion with a particular focus on neurobiology of memory; e.g., modulation of memory by way of chemicals released in the brain.

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  • Quas, Jodi A., and Robyn Fivush, eds. 2009. Emotion and memory in development: Biological, cognitive, and social considerations. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    A collection of chapters that discuss how emotion impacts children’s abilities to remember and report past events. The authors point out that research in this field is particularly applicable to legal and clinical settings.

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  • Reisberg, Daniel, and Paula Hertel, eds. 2004. Memory and emotion. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Covers memory and emotion from a primarily clinical perspective. Discusses emotional disorders and memory disorders and how the two interact. Recommended for both researchers and practitioners.

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  • Schooler, Jonathan W., and Eric Eich. 2000. Memory for emotional events. In The Oxford handbook of memory. Edited by Endel Tulving and Fergus I. M. Craik, 379–392. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Reviews three literatures on memory and emotion—eyewitness memory, flashbulb memory, and memory for traumatic experiences—and discusses the overlap between the fields. An excellent source for a brief introduction to these literatures.

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  • Uttl, Bob, Nobuo Ohta, and Amy Siegenthaler, eds. 2006. Memory and emotion: Interdisciplinary perspectives. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

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    A contemporary review of the literature on memory and emotion. Focuses on current methods and issues in the field.

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Culture and Autobiographical Memory

Memory in general, and episodic memory in particular, is often considered a neurocognitive product that transcends culture. Research on autobiographical memory, in comparison, has placed a greater emphasis on the social-cultural embeddedness of such memory, possibly due to its real-life relevance. Nonetheless, studies that put culture at the focal point are still much needed. A thorough discussion of the role of culture in shaping autobiographical memory can be found in Wang and Ross 2007. The edited volume Nilsson and Ohta 2006 covers a variety of topics to discuss the relations among memory, society, and culture. The gendered culture also affects autobiographical memory. Fivush 1998 illustrates how family narrative practices support different modes of remembering in boys and girls. The reader should refer to Autobiographical Memory and the Self for additional readings on culture.

  • Fivush, Robyn. 1998. Gendered narratives: Elaboration, structure, and emotion in parent-child reminiscing across the preschool years. In Autobiographical memory: Theoretical and applied perspectives. Edited by Charles P. Thompson, Douglas J. Herrmann, Darryl Bruce, J. Don Read, David G. Payne, and Michael P. Toglia, 79–103. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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    Discusses the influence of narrative skills and social interaction on autobiographical memory. The discussion is focused through the lens of gender differences. Women tend to have earlier first memories, and more accurate and detailed memories. The authors propose that these differences can be explained by gender differences in narrative and social skills.

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  • Nilsson, Lars-Göran, and Nobuo Ohta, eds. 2006. Memory and society: Psychological perspectives. New York: Psychology Press.

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    Experts in the field present evidence for the relationship between memory and culture. This book argues that a person’s present influences his or her memory of the past and that the study of autobiographical memory and culture has implications for applied issues.

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  • Wang, Qi, and Michael Ross. 2007. Culture and memory. In Handbook of cultural psychology. Edited by Shinobu Kitayama and Dov Cohen, 645–667. New York: Guilford.

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    Laments the lack of collaboration between social psychology and memory research and points out the ways in which social and cultural psychology can inform the study of autobiographical memory. Demonstrates how personal, interpersonal, and societal attributes and goals influence the autobiographical memory system.

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Collective Memory

Collective memory used to fall under the auspices of sociology. Recently, there has been an increasing interest among psychologists in this topic. The interest particularly lies in the role of the individual during the process of collective remembering and the link between collective memory and autobiographical memory. Halbwachs 1980, which is actually titled The Collective Memory, initiated this research area and is a must-read classic. Pennebaker, et al. 1997 is an influential book on this topic, with contributions from leading researchers. More recently, Boyer and Wertsch 2009 assembles a group of experts from diverse disciplines to discuss the relations among individual memory, collective memory, and history. Two special issues (Barnier and Sutton 2008; Hirst 2008) put together excellent collections of essays that offer a variety of perspectives on collective memory. Rajaram and Pereira-Pasarin 2010, a recent review on collaborative memory (i.e., how people remember in a group setting) has relevance for collective memory. In addition, many readings in Flashbulb Memory touch on the topic of collective memory.

  • Barnier, Amanda J., and John Sutton, eds. 2008. Special issue: From individual to collective memory: Theoretical and empirical perspectives. Memory 16:3.

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    A special issue dedicated to the study of collective memory. Articles cover both theoretical discussion and empirical evidence, with topics ranging from collaborative remembering to the interactions between group-collective and individual memories.

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  • Boyer, Pascal, and James V. Wertsch. 2009. Memory in mind and culture. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    An edited volume interesting for its broad conception of human memory, addressing both individual and collective memories. Considers questions such as the role of memory processes in maintaining a self-identity, mechanisms for forming shared collective memories, and memory characteristics. Perspectives range from neuroscience to sociology.

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  • Halbwachs, Maurice. 1980. The collective memory. New York: Harper & Row.

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    Monumental in suggesting that societies, like individuals, can have memories, and that an individual’s remembering of the past is situated in this collective consciousness.

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  • Hirst, William, ed. 2008. Special issue: Collective memory and collective identity. Social Researcher 75:1.

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    An interdisciplinary collection of essays in this special issue. Each essay focuses on a different approach to or aspect of collective memory, such as the relationship between narrative templates and public events, food and collective memory, history education, and identity development.

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  • Pennebaker, James, Dario Paez, and Bernard Rimé. 1997. Collective memory of political events: Social psychological perspectives. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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    An edited volume that focuses on social-psychological dynamics in response to particular public events within and across cultures. Unique in focusing on memories of political upheavals and the mechanisms that keep them memorable.

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  • Rajaram, Suparna, and Luciane P. Pereira-Pasarin. 2010. Collaborative memory: Cognitive research and theory. Perspectives on Psychological Science 5:649–663.

    DOI: 10.1177/1745691610388763Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reviews research and theories concerning collaborative learning and memory. The relationship between collective memory and collaborative memory is discussed.

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Functions of Autobiographical Memory

Autobiographical memory serves a variety of functions, which are generally mapped onto three broad categories: self-definition, relationship maintenance, and behavioral guidance. The functional approach to the study of autobiographical memory was first proposed by the classic essay Baddeley 1988. In two special issues edited by Bluck, one in Memory (Bluck 2003) and one in Applied Cognitive Psychology (Bluck 2009), expert researchers examine the functions of various autobiographical memory phenomena. Pillemer 1998 offers an extensive discussion of the psychological functions of autobiographical memory.

  • Baddeley, Alan. 1988. But what the hell is it for? In Practical aspects of memory: Memory in everyday life. Vol. 1, Current research and issues. Edited by Michael M. Gruneberg, Peter E. Morris, and Robert N. Sykes, 3–18. New York: Wiley.

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    A classic lecture on the importance of considering real-life applications of memory. Suggests that experimental lab studies are not sufficient without considering the relationship of autobiographical memory to everyday life.

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  • Bluck, Susan, ed. 2003. Special issue: Autobiographical memory: Exploring its functions in everyday life. Memory 11:2.

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    A special issue of the journal Memory that includes research on the topic of the function of autobiographical memory.

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  • Bluck, Susan. ed. 2009. Special issue: Baddeley revisited: The functional approach to autobiographical memory. Applied Cognitive Psychology 23:8.

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    This special issue of the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology follows up on the proposal in Baddeley 1988 that when studying autobiographical memory, scientists should ask, “But what the hell is it for?” The articles in this issue address recent work on the functions of autobiographical memory.

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  • Pillemer, David B. 1998. Momentous events, vivid memories. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    While previous research has focused on how the memory system works, Pillemer asks a more fundamental question: Why do we remember? He examines evidence from the laboratory and the real world that suggests potential functions of autobiographical memory.

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False Memory and Suggestibility

While researchers have studied false memory and suggestibility since the early 20th century, the field has burgeoned in the past three decades. The expansion in research has been partially spurred by historical events involving the legal system, because research on false memory and suggestibility is often applied to issues involving legal testimony. The selected works presented here aim to cover both basic and applied research. Ceci and Bruck 1995 is the primary text concerning children’s eyewitness testimony. It focuses primarily on suggestibility and false memory. Brainerd and Reyna 2005 covers the basic and applied approaches to studying false memory in children and adults. Loftus is considered a founder of the field, and therefore, her overview is a must-read (Loftus 1996). Loftus’s position on false memory and suggestibility is controversial. Pezdek and Banks 1996 provides a balanced view of the major controversy surrounding false memory and is helpful for understanding both sides of the debate. Schacter 2001 describes the primary mechanisms for memory failure. Bjorkland 2000, like Pezdek and Banks 1996, is an edited volume with chapters from leading experts in the field of false memory. It serves as a useful overview of the field. Schacter 1995 is an excellent collection of essays that discuss a variety of factors concerning memory accuracy and distortion.

  • Bjorkland, David F., ed. 2000. False-memory creation in children and adults: Theory, research, and implications. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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    A compilation of chapters from leading researchers in false memory and suggestibility. This book is useful for graduate students or professionals who are interested in a relatively recent overview of the field.

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  • Brainerd, Charles J., and Valerie F. Reyna. 2005. The science of false memory. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195154054.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A practical resource for anyone who is interested in conducting research in the field. It is perhaps most useful for researchers seeking background on the methods involved in false memory research.

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  • Ceci, Stephen J., and Maggie Bruck. 1995. Jeopardy in the courtroom: A scientific analysis of children’s testimony. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    DOI: 10.1037/10180-000Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Offers a broad definition of suggestibility and warns of the dangers of intentionally or unintentionally biasing children’s memory reports. The book is written for an educated lay audience and would be an excellent introduction to the field for undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, or legal professionals.

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  • Loftus, Elizabeth F. 1996. Eyewitness testimony. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    Loftus is one of the founders of the field and an avid advocate for awareness of the dangers of false memory and suggestion. Reading her work is important for anyone interested in understanding false memory and suggestibility. She has written several valuable books on the topic, but this book covers the most material.

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  • Pezdek, Kathy, and William B. Banks, eds. 1996. The recovered memory/false memory debate. San Diego, CA: Academic.

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    Covers the debate about whether repressed memories exist or are false memories. The chapters are written by leading academics on both sides of the debate and therefore provide a balanced view of a major controversy in the field.

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  • Schacter, Daniel. 2001. The seven sins of memory: How the mind forgets and remembers. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

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    Schacter argues that there are seven primary mechanisms that can cause errors in the memory system. He describes each and presents supporting literature. The book provides practical examples and is clearly written, making it accessible to an educated lay audience.

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  • Schacter, Daniel, ed. 1995. Memory distortions: How minds, brains, and societies reconstruct the past. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    Includes chapters that examine memory distortion from diverse biological, social, and developmental perspectives.

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Involuntary Memory

Involuntary memory refers to the memory that comes to consciousness without deliberate retrieval effort. This phenomenon was first identified by Hermann Ebbinghaus more than a century ago, and has become recently an emerging area in the scientific study of autobiographical memory. Bersten 2010, a succinct review, provides an excellent starting point to understand this phenomenon. In Bersten 2009, the author elaborates on the characteristics, functions, and mechanisms of involuntary memory. The two edited volumes Mace 2007 and Mace 2010 provide the ultimate reference for understanding the key methodological, theoretical, and practical issues in the study of involuntary memory. Topics pertaining to autobiographical memory in psychopathology, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, are also addressed. In a brief review, Dalgleish, et al. 2008 discusses involuntary memory and its regulation in survivors of psychological trauma (also see Emotional Memory and Memory for Trauma).

Autobiographical Memory in Psychopathology

Deficits and dysfunctions of autobiographical memory may be the cause or consequence of psycho-emotional disorders. A number of review articles together provide a coherent picture of this research area. Two phenomena have been frequently studied: the first concerns overgeneral memory or reduced memory specificity, and the second concerns Involuntary Memory and flashbacks. Williams, et al. 2007 discusses the mechanisms underlying overgeneral memory in individuals with emotional disorders. Moore and Zoellner 2007 examines the relation of trauma exposure to overgeneral memory. Brewin, et al. 2010 discusses the neural mechanisms underlying intrusive memories in various psychological disorders. Rubin, et al. 2008 argues that it is how a traumatic event is remembered rather than the event itself that determines the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Mitte 2008 conducts a meta-analysis to examine memory biases in individuals with anxiety disorders. Giesbrecht, et al. 2008 focuses on dissociation and related memory processes. Holmes and Mathews 2010 discusses the role of mental imagery in the maintenance and treatment of emotional disorders. The self-memory system theory proposed by Conway and Pleydell-Pearce 2000 provides the theoretical basis for explaining many autobiographical memory phenomena in clinical populations. Interested readers should also refer to Emotional Memory and Memory for Trauma.

  • Brewin, Chris R., James D. Gregory, Michelle Lipton, and Neill Burgess. 2010. Intrusive images in psychological disorders: Characteristics, neural mechanisms, and treatment implications. Psychological Review 117:210–232.

    DOI: 10.1037/a0018113Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reviews the role of intrusive memories and images across a wide range of clinical disorders. The existing evidence is then used to propose a neurobiological model of normal memory and imagery. Also provides a comprehensive review of neural causes of intrusive memories.

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  • Conway, Martin A., and Christopher W. Pleydell-Pearce. 2000. The construction of autobiographical memories in the self-memory system. Psychological Review 107:261–288.

    DOI: 10.1037/0033-295X.107.2.261Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Articulates a self-memory system that consists of an autobiographical knowledge base and current goals of the self, which explains many autobiographical memory phenomena in clinical populations.

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  • Giesbrecht, Timo, Steven Lynn, Scott O. Lilienfeld, and Harald Merckelbach. 2008. Cognitive processes in dissociation: An analysis of core theoretical assumptions. Psychological Bulletin 134:617–647.

    DOI: 10.1037/0033-2909.134.5.617Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A review of the relationship between dissociation and difficulties in various cognitive functions such as memory span, general information processing and attention problems, and difficulties in processing emotional stimuli.

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  • Holmes, Emily A., and Andrew Mathews. 2010. Mental imagery in emotion and emotional disorders. Clinical Psychology Review 30:349–362.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.cpr.2010.01.001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A comprehensive review of the relationship between emotion and mental imagery as a window into various psychopathologies. Reviews the existing evidence ranging from the use of mental imagery in treatment to neural bases.

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  • Mitte, Kristin. 2008. Memory bias for threatening information in anxiety and anxiety disorders: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin 134:886–911.

    DOI: 10.1037/a0013343Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A first meta-analysis of existing studies on selective attention to, and memory of threatening stimuli in anxiety disorders. Covers studies that focus on the impact of anxiety on both encoding and retrieval levels of memory processing.

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  • Moore, Sally A., and Lori A. Zoellner. 2007. Overgeneral autobiographical memory and traumatic events: An evaluative review. Psychological Bulletin 133:419–437.

    DOI: 10.1037/0033-2909.133.3.419Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An integrative review of twenty-four studies that focus on the causal role of exposure to trauma and traumatic events in overgeneral memory.

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  • Rubin, David C., Dorthe Berntsen, and Malene K. Johansen. 2008. A memory-based model of posttraumatic stress disorder: Evaluating basic assumptions underlying the PTSD diagnosis. Psychological Review 115:985–1011.

    DOI: 10.1037/a0013397Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents a framework that focuses on the memory of a traumatic event (e.g., memory loss or enhancement) rather than the event characteristics as the underlying factor in developing PTSD symptoms.

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  • Williams, J. Mark G., Thorsten Barnhofer, Catherine Crane, Dick Herman, Filip Raes, Ed Watkins, and Tim Dalgleish. 2007. Autobiographical memory specificity and emotional disorder. Psychological Bulletin 133:122–148.

    DOI: 10.1037/0033-2909.133.1.122Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An excellent review of the overgenerality phenomenon in autobiographical memory and its links to psychopathology of emotion. Includes a critical review of the methods to elicit overgeneral memories and the proposed mechanisms underlying this phenomenon.

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Episodic Future Thinking

Autobiographical memory not only allows us to mentally travel back in time to reexperience past events but also supports our anticipation of future happenings, namely, episode future thinking. The study of episodic future thinking is now a hot area in autobiographical memory research. Suddendorf and Corballis 1997 discusses the development and evolution of the ability of mental time travel and suggests that similar mechanisms may underlie mental time travel into the past and into the future. Similarly, Schacter and Addis 2007 proposes the constructive-episodic-simulation hypothesis, positing that details from past events are recombined to simulate future episodes. In supporting these views, empirical studies—such as Addis, et al. 2007, Buckner and Carroll 2007, and D’Argembeau and van der Linden 2004—have shown that remembering past events and imagining future events share many of the same cognitive and neural processes. McDonough and Gallo 2010, on the other hand, finds that the reality monitoring process is differentially involved in the recall of generated past and future events. D’Argembeau and van der Linden 2007 discusses the motivational and functional factors in future thinking. Szpunar 2010 provides an overview of research in this area.

  • Addis, Donna R., Alana T. Wong, and Daniel L. Schacter. 2007. Remembering the past and imagining the future: Common and distinct neural substrates during event construction and elaboration. Neuropsychologia 45:1363–1377.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2006.10.016Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An fMRI study suggesting an overlap of the neural mechanisms and brain areas of mental time travel into the past and into the future. Presents converging evidence from amnesic patients for how episodic system also contributes to imagining the future.

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  • Buckner, Randy L., and Daniel C. Carroll. 2007. Self-projection and the brain. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 11:49–57.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2006.11.004Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A theoretical proposal arguing for a shared brain network and neural mechanisms for abilities like remembering the past, perspective taking (theory of mind), and imagining the future based on existing developmental data.

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  • D’Argembeau, Arnaud, and Martial van der Linden. 2004. Phenomenal characteristics associated with projecting oneself back into the past and forward into the future: Influence of valence and temporal distance. Consciousness and Cognition 13:844–858.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.concog.2004.07.007Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents evidence that phenomenological characteristics of memories, such as vivid contextual details, are influenced by the temporal distance of the event in the same way for past events and imagined future events.

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  • D’Argembeau, Arnaud, and Martial van der Linden. 2007. Emotional aspects of mental time travel. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 30:320–321.

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    Proposes a theory of how emotion may be functional in episodic processing both backward and forward in time. Includes discussions on emotion regulation in keeping up with the current view of the self.

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  • McDonough, Ian M., and David A. Gallo. 2010. Separating past and future autobiographical events in memory: Evidence for a reality monitoring asymmetry. Memory & Cognition 38:3–12.

    DOI: 10.3758/MC.38.1.3Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    According to this study, people are more accurate in monitoring the source of future events than past events.

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  • Schacter, Daniel L., and Donna R. Addis. 2007. The ghosts of past and future. Nature 445:27.

    DOI: 10.1038/445027aSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An interesting short review on episodic future thinking and how it is related to the constructive nature of memory. Provides examples from memory errors and how they could be informative in understanding the simulation of future episodes.

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  • Suddendorf, Thomas, and Michael C. Corballis. 1997. Mental time travel and the evolution of the human mind. Genetic, Social, and General Psychology Monographs 123:133–167.

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    One of the first articles to suggest that there may be a shared mechanism underlying episodic memory and the ability to mentally construct events in future. Provides supporting evidence from developmental and comparative psychology studies about capacities such as theory of mind and language.

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  • Szpunar, Karl K. 2010. Episodic future thought: An emerging concept. Perspectives on Psychological Science 5:142–162.

    DOI: 10.1177/1745691610362350Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A brief, up-to-date review of the current findings of the field; draws on both psychology and neuroscience. Points out the lack of research on the role of semantic knowledge in episodic future thinking and suggests a theoretical account of the interaction between episodic and semantic memory in the simulation of future events.

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LAST MODIFIED: 11/29/2011

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199828340-0009

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