Autobiographical Memory - Methods of Study

Methods of Study


Memory can be inaccurate and critical details of a raw experience can be forgotten or re-imagined. The diary method of study circumvents these issues by having groups of participants keep a diary over a period of weeks or months, during which they record the details of everyday events that they judge to be memorable. In this way a record of true autobiographical memories can be collected.

These true autobiographical memories can then be presented to the participants at a later date in a recognition test, often in comparison to falsified diary entries or 'foils'. The results from these studies can give us information about the level of detail retained in autobiographical memory over time, and if certain features of an event are more salient and memorable in autobiographical memory.

A study performed by Barclay and Wellman (1986) included two types of foils in their recognition task: ones that were entirely false and ones that were the original diary entry with a few details altered. Against the false foils, participants were found to be highly accurate at recognizing their true entries (at an average rate of 95%) and false foils were only judged as true 25% of the time. However, when judging between true diary entries and the altered foils, the altered foils were incorrectly judged as true 50% of the time. Barclay and Wellman theorized this was due to the tendency to group similar or repeated autobiographical memories into generic memories or schemas, and thus diary entries that seemed familiar enough to fit into these schemas would be judged as true.

Memory probe
Originally devised by Galton (1879), the memory probe method uses a list of words as cues to bring to mind autobiographical memories, which the participant then tries to describe in as much detail as possible. The answers can then be analyzed in order to gain a better understanding as to how recall of autobiographical memory works, especially in cases dealing with brain damage or amnesia.

Recent studies have used non-verbal cues for memory, such as visual images or odours. Chu and Downes (2002) found ample evidence that odour cues are particularly good at cueing autobiographical memories. Odour-cued memories for specific events were more detailed and more emotionally loaded than those for verbal, visual, or non-related odour cues.

Read more about this topic:  Autobiographical Memory

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