In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Autobiographical Memories

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Methodology
  • Brain Mechanisms
  • Autobiographical Memory in Early Childhood
  • Childhood Amnesia
  • Life Narratives in Adolescence and Adulthood
  • Autobiographical Memory and Aging
  • Reminiscence Bump
  • Flashbulb Memory
  • Autobiographical Memory and the Self
  • Emotional Memory and Memory for Trauma
  • Culture and Autobiographical Memory
  • Collective Memory
  • Functions of Autobiographical Memory
  • False Memory and Suggestibility
  • Involuntary Memory
  • Autobiographical Memory in Psychopathology
  • Episodic Future Thinking

Psychology Autobiographical Memories
Qi Wang, Çağla Aydın, Jessica Zoe Klemfuss
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 April 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 April 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0009


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.

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

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

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.1993.tb00548.x

    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.

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

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.psych.53.100901.135114

    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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