The Different Ways People Use Their Autobiographical Memories

Your life story is unique, and how you use it might be a matter of individual preference too. Different people use their autobiographical memories in different ways, and a person’s age, gender and personality can all influence what they choose to do with their life story.

A recent study from researchers in Croatia confirmed this idea that different people find different functions for their memories of their own lives. The study looked at 365 adults in two different age brackets: a younger bracket of those between 18 and 45 years of age, and an older bracket ranging from 46 to 90. It found a number of differences in how different groups of people tend to make different use of their autobiographical memories.

For example, one way people use autobiographical memories is to direct future behavior. People draw lessons and principles from their memories of their past experience, which informs the decisions they make about the future.

Everyone does this to some extent, but not everyone does it equally. Specifically, the study found that young people and women are more likely to use their autobiographical memories for directing future behavior. People who were more oriented toward the past in general also tended to more often use autobiographical memories to determine future behavior.

Another function these memories have is in social bonding. Sharing memories is one way people bond with each other. Again, though, some people use autobiographical memories as material for social bonding more than others. Young people in particular are more likely to find a social function for autobiographical memories, as are people who tend to from anxious attachments.

One area where autobiographical memories are especially important is in building a sense of self. Your life story is a significant part of who you are as a person. People of all ages and genders seem to be equally likely in to use the self-clarifying function of autobiographical memories. However, people who have a less clear concept of self are especially reliant on this use of their own memories.

Generally, these results show the many key functions that memories can serve. From defining a sense of self to helping forge social connections to informing future decisions, recollections of past experience are an important and flexible psychological resource. But we don’t all use our memories in the same way. Who we are and how our perspective changes as we go through life both influence what we ultimately do with the glimpses into the past that comprise our life stories.

Image: Flickr/skyblueseed