A content analysis of involuntary autobiographical memories: examining the positivity effect in old age

S. Schlagman, J. Schulz, L. Kvavilashvili

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Citations (Scopus)
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Abstract

Although research on autobiographical memory is growing steadily, very little is known about involuntary autobiographical memories that are spontaneously recalled in everyday life. In addition, very few studies have examined the actual content of autobiographical memories and how the content might change as a function of age. The present study carried out a content analysis of involuntary autobiographical memories recorded by young (N = 11) and old (N = 10) volunteers over a period of 1 week. A total of 224 memories were classified into 17 categories according to the type of content recalled (e.g., births, holidays, school). The results support the socioemotional theory of ageing (Carstensen, Isaacowitz & Charles, 1999) by showing that although young and old adults recalled a similar number of memories with a typically positive content (e.g., holidays, special occasions), older adults recalled very few memories with a typically negative content (e.g., accidents, stressful events). Moreover, even when such negative memories were recalled, they were rated by older adults as neutral or even positive. This so-called positivity effect in old age could not be entirely explained by participants' ratings of mood at the time of recall. Theoretical and practical implications of these findings for ageing and autobiographical memory research are discussed
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)161-175
JournalMemory
Volume14
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2006

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