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An autobiographical memory is a personal representation of general or specific events and personal facts. Autobiographical memory also refers to memory of a person’s history. An individual does not remember exactly everything that has happened in one’s past. Memory is constructive, where previous experience affects how we remember events and what we end up recalling from memory. Autobiographical memory is constructive and reconstructed as an evolving process of past history. A person’s autobiographical memory is fairly reliable; although, the reliability of autobiographical memories is questionable because of memory distortions.

Autobiographical memories can differ for special periods of life. People recall few personal events from the first years of their lives. The loss of these first events is called childhood or infantile amnesia. People tend to recall many personal events from adolescence and early adulthood. This effect is called the reminiscence bump. Finally, people recall many personal events from the last few years. This is called the recency effect. For adolescents and young adults the reminiscence bump and the recency effect coincide.

It is known that autobiographical memories initially are stored as episodic memories, but it is currently unknown if autobiographical memories are the same as episodic memories or if the autobiographical memories become converted to semantic memories with time.

Types

  • Specific Events
  • When you first stepped foot in the ocean.
  • General Events
  • What it feels like stepping into the ocean in general: This is a memory of what a personal event is generally like. It might be based on the memories of having stepped in the ocean, many times during the years.
  • Personal Facts
  • Flash Bulb Memories
  • Flash bulb memories are critical Autobiographical Memories about a major event. Some flash bulb memories are shared within a social group:
"The assassination of John Kennedy?"
"The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.?"
"The Challenger explosion?"
"The verdict in the O.J. Simpson trial?"
"When you learned that Princess Diana had died?"
"When you heard about 9/11?"

References

  • Brown, R., & Kulik, J. (1977). Flashbulb memories. Cognition, 5, 73-99.
  • Conway, M. A., & Pleydell Pearce, C. W. (2000). The construction of autobiographical memories in the self memory system. Psychological Review, 107, 261-288.
  • Rubin, D. C., Schrauf, R. W., & Greenberg, D. L. (2003). Belief and recollection of autobiographical memories. Memory and Cognition, 31, 887-901.
  • Sternberg, R.J. (2006). Cognitive Psychology (4th ed.). Belmont: Vicki Knight.

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