Reminiscence and Mental Health

An occasional trip down memory lane might be just what the psychologist ordered, at least according to a study published last month by researchers from Australia.

To learn about the therapeutic effects of reminiscing, the researchers asked 321 young adults to participate in one of three kinds of “online reminiscence activities”:

  • A problem solving activity that prompted participants to reminisce about a time they successfully coped with an adverse situation.
  • An identity activity where participants reminisced about self-defining events from the past.
  • A bitterness activity that encouraged participants to dredge up negative memories.

When researchers surveyed participants before and after the reminiscence activities, they found that the problem solving and identity activities had several positive effects. Specifically, people who reflected on these memories subsequently were in a better mood and felt more self-esteem, self-efficacy and meaning in life.

On the other hand, those participating in the bitterness activity didn’t seem to be affected one way or another. Nor did those in a control group that reminisced about whatever they wanted with no specific theme.

This isn’t the first study to find possible mental health benefits of reminiscence. Other studies have explored the topic, most commonly focusing on reminiscence in older adults.

One meta-analysis linked reminiscence to higher life satisfaction and wellbeing in older adults. Although older adults living in nursing homes and residential care centers benefited the most, reminiscence still appeared to have a significant effect for all older adults generally. Another study found that reminiscence was especially helpful for older adults with mild Alzheimer’s disease, who used it both to stave off boredom and to come to terms with their mortality.

Taken together, these findings show that reminiscence can be a useful mental health tool for adults of any age. From the beginning of adulthood to old age, reminiscing is a way of putting things in context and dealing with the questions each stage of life poses.

Image: Flickr/risa ikeda under CC BY-NC 2.0