The making of autobiographical memory: Intersections of culture, narratives and identity

Robyn Fivush, Tilmann Habermas, Theodore E.A. Waters, Widaad Zaman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Autobiographical memory is a uniquely human form of memory that integrates individual experiences of self with cultural frames for understanding identities and lives. In this review, we present a theoretical and empirical overview of the sociocultural development of autobiographical memory, detailing the emergence of autobiographical memory during the preschool years and the formation of a life narrative during adolescence. More specifically, we present evidence that individual differences in parental reminiscing style are related to children's developing autobiographical narratives. Parents who structure more elaborated coherent personal narratives with their young children have children who, by the end of the preschool years, provide more detailed and coherent personal narratives, and show a more differentiated and coherent sense of self. Narrative structuring of autobiographical remembering follows a protracted developmental course through adolescence, as individuals develop social cognitive skills for temporal understanding and causal reasoning that allows autobiographical memories to be integrated into an overarching life narrative that defines emerging identity. In addition, adolescents begin to use culturally available canonical biographical forms, life scripts, and master narratives to construct a life story and inform their own autobiographical narrative identity. This process continues to be socially constructed in local interactions; we present exploratory evidence that parents help adolescents structure life narratives during coconstructed reminiscing and that adolescents use parents and families as a source for their own autobiographical content and structure. Ultimately, we argue that autobiography is a critical developmental skill; narrating our personal past connects us to our selves, our families, our communities, and our cultures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)321-345
Number of pages25
JournalInternational Journal of Psychology
Volume46
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2011

Keywords

  • Autobiographical memory
  • Identity
  • Narrative
  • Self

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychology(all)

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