Thursday, May 6, 2010

Identity and Memory

Memory is an internal record or representation of some prior event or experience (Huffman, 2004). Without memory, people have no past because everything they have learned and experienced is lost and that makes memory one of the most important and valuable mental processes. Many types of memory have been identified, but one of the most used but last studied is the autobiographical memory (AM).
AM is the memory of all the life experiences that is at the center of a person’s identity (Robinson-Riegler, 2008). AM is as unique and varied as each individual that is connected to it. Many variables have been identified and known to affect AM, including gender, culture, emotions, and developmental stage at the time of the experience (Robinson-Riegler, 2008).
As mentioned, AM is at the center of a person’s identity. Identity is what makes an individual who they are, how they feel, and all the other unique and varied characteristics that make up individuality. According to Semegon (2008), there are three separate functions that serve the AM: the interpersonal, the knowledge-based, and the intrapersonal functions.
The interpersonal function of the AM consists of memories that are used in a social setting to establish relationships. For example, a new acquaintance may be upset about something and a person using the interpersonal function would retrieve a memory that could be related to the situation. This retrieval and conveyance of understanding would result in showing empathy for the individual, possibly establishing a new relationship.
The knowledge-based function of AM consists of more practical memories, but can also serve the individual on many different occasions. “Autobiographical memories serve knowledge-based functions when they are stored as general or situation-specific knowledge that can become relevant in general action planning or specific problem solving” (Semegon, 2008). For example, a person is driving to work and takes a supposed shortcut and this action results in being late for work. Later, the same person is presented with another shortcut. The memory of this experience and undesirable result will directly affect the person’s decisions now, as well affect the expectations of the outcome.
The intrapersonal function of the AM has a strong impact on present emotions (Semegon, 2008). Memories that evoke an emotional response can help to serve an individual or cause detrimental effects, based on how a memory is used. For example, a shy person giving a speech could focus on his or her successes in life, possibly yielding a positive outcome. On the other hand, the same person could focus on the last time a speech was delivered, he or she tripped going onto stage, stuttered the whole time, and was laughed at by the audience. Memories have a great effect on current decisions and emotions.
In 2001, Bluck, Habermas, and Rubin performed a study that consisted of participants presented with various statements that represented interpersonal, knowledge-based, and intrapersonal functions of AM. They asked the participants to rate how often their AM’s satisfied each of the three functions. The results on one of their scales “consistently assessed the identity or self-continuity function of autobiographical memory” (Semegon, 2008). This study helps to confirm that AM is clearly at the center of a person’s identity.

Huffman, K (2004). Psychology in action. New Jersey: Wiley & Sons.
Robinson-Riegler, G., & Robinson-Riegler, B. (2008). Cognitive psychology: Applying thescience of the mind. Allyn and Bacon: MA.
Semegon, A. (2008, January 07). Self-defining autobiographical memory in relation to adult self concept and psychological well-being. Retrieved January 23, 2009 from University of Phoenix library website: ProQuest ID: 1390341441

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