6 - Personal identity and autobiographical recall  pp. 105-135

Personal identity and autobiographical recall

By Greg J. Neimeyer and April E. Metzler

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Many years ago an unmanageable adolescent by the name of Samuel Clemens took leave of what he described as his “stupid, know-nothin'” father. Several years later, when the famous American humorist had returned home as a young adult after weathering the world on his own for a while, Mark Twain was, again in his own words, “astonished to find out how much the old man had learned in those few years.” Episodes such as this stand not only as amusing testaments to predictable developmental trajectories, but also as subtle reminders that autobiographical memories necessarily follow personal pathways, pathways constituted in the very act of self-construction. Even as we forge notions of our “selves,” we shape and frame the nature of our later recollections. Our identities and memories are two sides of the same coin (Greenwald & Banaji, 1989).

This paper addresses the constructive and reconstructive aspects of autobiographical memory broadly, placing particular emphasis on the interdependence between memory recall and the continuously evolving self. It follows Robinson's (1976) definition of an autobiographical memory as a personal “record of discrete experiences arising from a person's participation in acts or situations which were to some degree localized in time and place” (p. 578). The central features of this definition are shared by other, more recent descriptions, such as Neisser's (1988, p. 361) characterization of autobiographical memory as “the form of memory in which the events of one's life comprise the significant memoria” (cf. Brewer's 1986 definition of personal memory).