Identity Change Impacts Autobiographical Reconstruction of Identity-Relevant Events: Influences of the Self-System on Remembering
The focus on how one is behaving, feeling, and thinking, provides a powerful source of self-knowledge. How is this self-knowledge utilized in the dynamic reconstruction of autobiographical memories? How, in turn, might autobiographical memories support identity and the self-system? I address these questions through a critical review of the literature on autobiographical memory and the self-system, with a special focus on the self-concept, self-knowledge, and identity. I then outline the methods and results of a prospective longitudinal study examining the effects of an identity change on memory for events related to that identity. Participant-rated memory characteristics, computer-generated ratings of narrative content and structure, and neutral-observer ratings of coherence were examined for changes over time related to an identity-change, as well as for their ability to predict an identity-change. The conclusions from this study are threefold: (1) when the rated centrality of an event decreases, the reported instances of retrieval, as well as the phenomenology associated with retrieval and the number of words used to describe the memory, also decrease; (2) memory accuracy (here, estimating past behaviors) was not influenced by an identity change; and (3) remembering is not unidirectional – characteristics of identity-relevant memories and the life story predict and may help support persistence with an identity (here, an academic trajectory).
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