Differential effects of age on involuntary and voluntary autobiographical memory

S. Schlagman, M. Kliegel, J. Schulz, L. Kvavilashvili

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Research on aging and autobiographical memory has focused almost exclusively on voluntary autobiographical memory. However, in everyday life, autobiographical memories often come to mind spontaneously without deliberate attempt to retrieve anything. In the present study, diary and word-cue methods were used to compare the involuntary and voluntary memories of 44 young and 38 older adults. The results showed that older adults reported fewer involuntary and voluntary memories than did younger adults. Additionally, the life span distribution of involuntary and voluntary memories did not differ in young adults (a clear recency effect) or in older adults (a recency effect and a reminiscence bump). Despite these similarities between involuntary and voluntary memories, there were also important differences in terms of the effects of age on some memory characteristics. Thus, older adults’ voluntary memories were less specific and were recalled more slowly than those of young adults, but there were no reliable age differences in the specificity of involuntary memories. Moreover, older adults rated their involuntary memories as more positive than did young adults, but this positivity effect was not found for voluntary memories. Theoretical implications of these findings for research on autobiographical memory and cognitive aging are discussed
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)397-411
JournalPsychology and Aging
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • reminiscence bump
  • positivity effect


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