Autobiographical memory research paper

To forget certain things, it seemed that the rat brain had to proactively destroy connections at the synapse. The neurotransmitter dopamine is now known to play an essential part in memory. Paul Frankland, a neuroscientist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada, had also found evidence that the brain is wired to forget.

Frankland was studying the production of new neurons, or neurogenesis, in adult mice. The process had long been known to occur in the brains of young animals, but had been discovered in the hippocampi of mature animals only about 20 years earlier. Because the hippocampus is involved in memory formation, Frankland and his team wondered whether increasing neurogenesis in adult mice could help the rodents to remember.

Acknowledgements

As contradictory as that initially seemed to Frankland, given the assumption that new neurons would mean more capacity for and potentially better memory, he says it now makes sense. Because the hippocampus is not where long-term memories are stored in the brain, its dynamic nature is not a flaw but a feature, Frankland says — something that evolved to aid learning.

The environment is changing constantly and, to survive, animals must adapt to new situations. Allowing fresh information to overwrite the old helps them to achieve that. Researchers think that the human brain might operate in a similar way. Studies of people with exceptional autobiographical memories or with impaired ones seem to bear this out. People with a condition known as highly superior autobiographical memory HSAM remember their lives in such incredible detail that they can describe the outfit that they were wearing on any particular day.

Those with severely deficient autobiographical memory SDAM , however, are unable to vividly recall specific events in their lives. As a result, they also have trouble imagining what might happen in the future. The integration of new neurons green into the hippocampus red bands degrades stored memories.

How Many of Your Memories Are Fake? - The Atlantic

Credit: Jagroop Dhaliwal. Various symptoms of these conditions — including flashbacks, obsessive thoughts, depressive rumination and difficulty controlling thoughts — have been linked to an overactive hippocampus. A better understanding of how to help people make traumatic memories less intrusive could help researchers to treat some of the most intractable cases.

When Anderson and his colleagues looked at what happens when volunteers suppress unwanted memories — a process he calls motivated forgetting — they found that people who reported more traumatic experiences were particularly good at repressing specific memories 5. Understanding the cognitive psychology that underlies that ability, as well as the mental resilience that is necessary for developing it, could help to improve treatment for PTSD.

If forgetting is truly a well-regulated, innate part of the memory process, he says, it makes sense that dysregulation of that process could have negative effects. That question is yet to be answered. But more memory researchers are shifting their focus to examine how the brain forgets, as well as how it remembers.

In the past decade, researchers have begun to view forgetting as an important part of a whole.


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Memory, first and foremost, is there to serve an adaptive purpose. It endows us with knowledge about the world, and then updates that knowledge. This article is part of Nature Outlook: The brain , an editorially independent supplement produced with the financial support of third parties. About this content. Berry, J.

Articles on Autobiographical memory

Neuron 74 , — Migues, P. Akers, K. Science , — Schmitz, T. Nature Commun. Hulbert, J.

Download references. An essential round-up of science news, opinion and analysis, delivered to your inbox every weekday. Advanced search. Search for this author in: Pub Med Nature. Credit: Sam Falconer. PDF version. From flies to rodents A few years later, Hardt found something similar in rats. References 1. PubMed Article Google Scholar 2. PubMed Article Google Scholar 3. PubMed Article Google Scholar 4. A term designed to reflect the self-reflection of the rememberer on the contents of episodic memory Baddeley et al, It is also important to note that despite the subjective nature of memory with its capacity to be open to biases, source monitoring biases, absent-mindedness and the implantation of misinformation Rubin et al, It is believed to be an event that has taken place, in the mind of the individual this is what has been, and will be; an event that has taken place in the persons past Scorboria et al, Conway et al suggests that the importance of autobiographical memory is that it grounds the individual with a sense of continuity and coherence Reese et al, as to who they are as a person; autobiographical memory is therefore essential to self-identity and the formation of the concept of the 'self'.

As a social component and an intrinsic function of social integration it also allows us to develop a sense of identity that is comparative to the perceived identities of the collective around us; this assists us with maintaining social and emotional bonds with others that occur through the process of reminiscing of episodic events Nelson, ; Howe et al, ; Nelson and Fivush, It is important that these separate disciplines start to integrate and merge to become interdisciplinary within autobiographical memory research; the current limitation to autobiographical memory research is that it has been viewed as distinct and separate, with little cohesion between the psychological schools of thought Prebble et al, As Bauer et al has argued autobiographical memory theorists are like blind people feeling part of the elephant and claiming it for the whole; cognitive and linguistic theorists particularly are indicative of this statement.

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Although it has been recognised that autobiographical memory primarily develops in social and cultural contexts Bauer et al, making social investigation, and inclusion of social and cultural influences in studies a prerogative for grasping the richness of these memories and their influence on the self Fivush et al, ; Belli, There have been attempts to observe autobiographical memory as a distinct facet of human memory with the need for single experimentation in controlled environments, leaving social influences largely devoid from the investigation Baddeley et al, This however is a reductive approach since social factors may render autobiographical memory a non-memorial judgement, which is strongly influenced by environmental factors Scoboria et al, It has been contested that this social influence represents a form of theoretical social constructionism which seeks to reduce the determinist argument or the essentialist argument by stressing the role of the collective over the individuals perceived sense of autonomy; for example youth sub cultures who perceive themselves to be acting against a social norm, but rather instead replace the existing norm with an opposing one.

However, regardless of the motivations of social theorists, the premise of a significance of social influence upon the construction of autobiographical memories remains important Bauer et al, Therefore the author, in line with the theoretical premise of Frederick Bartlett and Vygotsky, argues that the approach to memory should be viewed from a socio-historical perspective; Baddeley et al, critics argue this represents a social constructionist dominance over cognition and other domains, however the theory does not necessarily stress that there isn't a role for the individual and their cognitive functions.

Bartlett's importance was that he accurately stated that studies in laboratories, constraining external variables would lead to reductive conclusions into the content, retrieval and power of autobiographical memories on the psyche. Remembering is therefore reconstructive, and largely influences and reconstructs the self-schema from past experiences and social interactions.

The author therefore stresses that a theoretical premise of social psychology is important for identifying the potency of autobiographical memories on the self and future decision making Atance et al, ; Friedman, Conway's hypothesis is that AM is fundamentally about assigning goal-seeking behaviours, therefore this is largely a social pursuit by the individual, and suggests the thought-processing of the individual is important for identifying areas of occurrence; this can only be studied from a social perspective because it relies on self-disclosure, which although limited and prone to memory reconstruction and biases, is nonetheless important for studying how individuals perceive these memories Walker et al, ; Earles et al, Recent developments upon Conway's hypothesis suggest that autobiographical memory may have a different function; to enable individuals to imagine possible future outcomes and events Schacter and Addis, ; Addis et al, ; Naito et al, The content of these future scenarios and events remains unexplored, with no known study by the author into individual expression of these scenarios.

A gap therefore exists for a qualitative self-reporting structure that allows for freedom of expression of how the subject perceives their own memories, regardless of the known memory distortions Pause et al, , the questionnaire method proposed accounts for freedom of expression without forced questions or directing the response of the participant to novel memories; allowing for the encapsulation of these dynamic, rich memories Bauer, ; Bauer et al, A thematic analysis can then be used to determine whether certain themes arise from these largely social situations in order to apply appropriate conclusions that reflect the richness of the data.

A contexualist approach of both essentialist and constructionist elements will allow for the observation of what participants have said, whilst applying a social constructionist theoretical framework to the data Braun and Clark, This social function is just one of the hypothesized areas of autobiographical memory functions. There are four areas of function that have been proposed by Williams, Conway and Cohen One, is as explained the social function, but there are also the directive functions; for example what happened the last time you did something?


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  7. What was the perceived meaning of the event? This explains the basic premise of autobiographical memory, which is the narrative component of autobiographical memory. Thirdly, there is the function of adversity, where memories are recalled to fend off negative mood congruent memories. For example, when we are depressed we can recall negative memories far more readily Howe et al, The adversity function is like a mental defence mechanism against this experience, and limits negative autobiographical memories from entering our conscious thought. The area remains largely devoid of theoretical underpinning and established methodological measurements.

    As such it remains a difficult task for autobiographical memory researchers to devise an adequate methodology for the broad spectrum of autobiographical memories, which may be difficult or rather misleading to deposit them into categorical classification Baddeley et al, But, Conway has constructed a model of autobiographical memory which will enable researchers to directly apply theory to scientific research findings. Conway argues that autobiographical memory is essentially transitory, and that it relies on other memory functions to be recollected and have significance to the self-schema.

    He proposed the function of an autobiographical knowledge base, which stores life-periods ranging from very abstract episodes in the persons personal past, too episodes which are sensory and perceptual in nature. The notion is very similar to that of working memory and interaction with cognitive processes, such as reading aloud and spoken-word recognition Baddeley, It was the first attempt made at explaining the 'self' and its interactions with memory; so far there has been little in the way of scientific progress to devise a stronger theoretical framework.

    However, AM research has gradually been increasing in interest Baddeley et al, The study to be conducted has separated the autobiographical memory self-constructed questionnaire into categorical facets that are relevant to the typical life-stages that are common to most of us; being an undergraduate, and our first job for example Howe et al, This also has the added methodological strength of being able to identify the strongest relevance of AM in areas such as school, work, and various other sub-categories of the typical human lifespan.

    Once these have been identified, the qualitative aspect is necessary for exploring why people assume these sub-lifespan memories are perceived to be important for future decision-making and thought processing. In regards to decision-making for instance, future goal orientated behaviour such as choosing a career path should be intrinsic to the interaction of the working self and autobiographical knowledge that was hypothesized by Conway Conway and Jobson have argued that the fundamental operation of autobiographical memory is goal-related, with different goals resulting from external social forces such as the culture around them.

    Therefore this hypothesis by Conway and Jobson leaves the social question as to what these goal-related behaviours are, and how and to what extent do they change from events and experiences in the persons past. However research conducted by Hyman and Faries investigated memories that people had been discussing with one another during social interaction.

    They found little evidence of the reminiscing of episodic memories to be used for future problem solving scenarios, but rather a strong connection between AM and the directive use of sharing experiences, and using these past experiences to pass on guidance and advice from past recollections. This research suggests memory serves a reflective purpose, rather than an interactive practical application from previous memories of the experiencer.


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    In short, past recollection does not guarantee a change in thinking, decision-making or life goals. The social function is clearly dominant from these findings, with the past experiences being used to provide guidance externally to others, rather than internal self-retrospection. The mind is able to project the lessons of these past experiences onto others, but seldom applies these consequences to the individuals own life.

    Evidence suggests that children as young as 8 are aware of what a typical life within a culture may look like in regards to life transition stages Bernsten and Bohn, e. These life transition stages are a core component of the study of prevalence of AM to be conducted.

    Autobiographical Memory

    The familial component is particularly prevalent, with family stories and memories of parents reflecting strongly on defining the self in relation to others Fivush et al, It is therefore quite clear that sociability within our surrounding environment is a core principle for the development of autobiographical memory; the role of social interaction amongst others, the notion of life as a conversation from which you create a schema upon suggests we create a personal life story through the application of articulating our experiences with others Howe et al, The role of autobiographical memory has until recently largely been intrinsically applied as a goal-orientation function, however there are developments suggesting that autobiographical beliefs influence the behaviour of the individual, contrary to Hyman and Faries findings of little, to no self-response to these memories.

    These beliefs are hypothesized to lead to emotive responses in future experiences; therefore this study wishes to assess this conclusion by conducting a thematic analysis of memory and their ability to create motivation in individual decisions. There have been major breakthroughs within the cognitive domain to establish autobiographical memory as relevant to the study of cognition.

    It has been referred to as a 'complex cognitive-affective system' Wells et al, thus establishing the dominance of the cognitive perspective over scientific experimentation into autobiographical facets of mental representation. The roots of autobiographical memory are largely rooted in the notion of the 'cognitive self' Howe and Courage, ; Hassabis et al. The cognitive self also explains the notion developed by Tulving of autonoetic consciousness which is likely to form around the age of 4 in children, Howe et al, when cognitive processes of language acquisition and long term memory start to rapidly develop as the child develops into early adolescence.

    There have been large quantities of memory researchers who have investigated the cognitive component of episodic memory, with many cue-related recall studies and a cognitive neuroscience approach to investigating the properties of episodic-like memories Yonelinas, ; McCabe et al, ; Unsworth et al, Gilboa discussed the meta-analytic difference and evidence of episodic and autobiographical brain activity; results of the brain scans showed increased activity in the left ventromedial prefrontal cortex for autobiographical memories than episodic memories, whilst this activity was higher in the mid-dorsolateral pre-frontal cortex for episodic memory; probably because of increased regulation to minimise error of memories, autobiographical ones however rely on representations from activated knowledge.

    Therefore AM applied to the imagined future is likely to be a distorted projection, but may reveal interesting self-perceptions and insight into personal narratives we construct Nelson, However, despite the advancement and predominance of cognitive exploration; this has shown the social investigation and enquiry to be rather lacking, with the entire school of thought seemingly disinterested with investigating the area of enquiry.

    The area of autobiographical memory in relation to scientific investigation is very recent, with most researchers focusing on the semantic aspects of episodic memory, rather than autobiographical memory which are more diverse and emotionally rich Wang et al, Therefore there is a large vacuum of unexplored areas, largely in the social domain where autobiographical comprehension has been left un-investigated.

    Pause et al argues that there is no current standardized test within the methodologies used to measure autobiographical memory. They argue for the assessment of novel episodic memories, rather than identifying autobiographical memories as a whole.