The Function of Autobiographical Memory

AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL MEMORY Outlines: 1. Definition, characteristics and function of autobiographical memory 2. Methods of studying autobiographical memory 3. Levels of autobiographical memory 4. Conway’s theory 5. Autobiographical memory as life narrative 6. Autobiographical memory over time (infantile amnesia; reminiscence bump) Definition of Autobiographical Memories • Memories of ourselves and our relationships • Episodic and semantic • Unique • One’s life narrative • Interpretive knowledge Characteristics of Autobiographical Memories Constructive & integrative • General and specific information • General before specific information • Retrieval rate • More complex The Function of Autobiographical Memories Hyman and Faries (1992) & Bluck et al. ’s (2005) TALE questionnaire Williams, Conway, and Cohen (2008) proposed four functions of AM: – Directive – Social – Self-representational – Helping to cope with adversity Studying Autobiographical Memories • Difficult to study • Many studies of autobiographical memory make tenuous assumptions … • Methods of study: • Classic diary method Diary method with random sampling • Memory probe method Structure of Autobiographical Memory Levels of Autobiographical Memory: • Event-specific knowledge

• General events • Lifetime periods Levels of Autobiographical Memory 1. Event specific memories • Most closely aligned with episodic memory • Individual experiences • Perceptual and contextual detail • Most lost 2. General events • Two types – Sequence of events – Repeated events of a kind – Cover general time period • Require integrative and interpretive processing 3. Lifetime periods • Several general events Common theme • Provide structure • Goals or preferences Support for Hierarchy • Heuristic • Support for different life-time periods: case studies • Semantic and episodic aspects of autobiographical memories are dissociable: – Retrograde amnesia can affect memory for both personal and public events, or either one, separately Conway’s (2005) Theory The Autobiographical Knowledge Base A hierarchical structure involving an overall life story Conway’s Theory • Experienced self (the “me”) • Autobiographical knowledge base

• Working self Autonoetic consciousness (Tulving, 1989) Autobiographical Memory as Life Narrative The Life Narrative: • A coherent account of who we are and how we got here that is built up through life • Events that influence the narrative are ranked as important, emotionally intense, and are typically well encoded • Positive events from young adulthood are especially memorable • Differences in perspective on experience • Field memories (own perspective) • Newer memories • More emotional • Less self-awareness • Observer memories (other’s perspective) Older memories • Less emotional • More self-awareness PTSD research Autobiographical Memory over Time • People of all ages tend to recall numerous memories from the very recent past – Due to the recency effect • Infantile amnesia • Reminiscence bump Infantile Amnesia: Why does this occur? ? Psychodynamic (Freudian) ? Neurological/Biological ? Schema organization view ? Language development view ? Development of the self • Nelson & Fivush: Multicomponent Development Why is there a reminiscence bump? • Cognitive • Neural substrates • Identity formation

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