Dissociations between directly and generatively retrieved autobiographical memories: Evidence from ageing

Ioanna Markostamou, Chloe Randall, Lia Kvavilashvili

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Autobiographical memory research has largely focused on effortful, generative retrieval processes, particularly in cognitive ageing literature. However, recent evidence has shown that autobiographical memories are often retrieved directly, without effortful retrieval processes. In the present study, we examined the retrieval characteristics and the phenomenological qualities of directly and generatively retrieved memories in younger and older adults. Participants recalled autobiographical memories in response to word-cues and reported whether each of their memories was retrieved directly (i.e., memory popped into mind) or generatively (i.e., they actively searched for it), and provided ratings for several retrieval and phenomenological characteristics. Overall, directly retrieved autobiographical memories were recalled faster and with less effort, were more recent, more frequently rehearsed, more vivid, and more positive in valence than generatively retrieved memories. Importantly, while younger adults recalled a higher number of generatively retrieved autobiographical memories than older adults, there were no age effects on the number of directly retrieved memories. We also established the parallel-form reliability of the word-cue method in eliciting autobiographical memories by comparing two sets of word-cues. The results provide novel insights on the dissociable effects of retrieval type and ageing on autobiographical memories. Theoretical and practical implications of these findings are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)931-947
Number of pages17
Issue number7
Early online date15 May 2023
Publication statusPublished - 15 May 2023


  • Ageing
  • autobiographical memory
  • memory cueing paradigm
  • retrieval processes


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