The frequency and cueing mechanisms of involuntary autobiographical memories while driving

Andrew Laughland, Lia Kvavilashvili

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Involuntary autobiographical memories (IAMs) have been typically studied with paper diaries, kept for a week or longer. However, such studies are unable to capture the true frequency of IAMs, nor the level of detail that would give new insights into the mechanisms of IAMs. To address this gap, a new audio-recording method was developed and tested on the first author who recorded 674 IAMs while driving a car on a 30-40-minute-long habitual route on 20 occasions. Results revealed very high frequency of IAMs (almost 34 per journey) that were reported more often in response to dynamic (one-off) than static cues. Moreover, a substantial number of memory chains and long-term priming of IAMs by previously encountered incidental stimuli were also recorded. Based on these results, a new theoretical model is proposed in which the occurrence of IAMs is determined by an interplay of factors at the time of the IAM, such as the type of ongoing activity and internal or external triggers, as well as different types of long-term priming. The results also have practical implications for studying mind-wandering and safety issues in driving and aircraft-flying, where periods of concentration are followed by monotony and less demanding tasks.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
Early online date3 Jan 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 3 Jan 2024


  • Involuntary autobiographical memory
  • driving
  • dynamic and static memory cues
  • memory chaining
  • mind-wandering
  • self-study


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