The frequency of voluntary and involuntary autobiographical memories across the life span.

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In the present study, ratings of the memory of an important event from the previous week on the frequency of voluntary and involuntary retrieval, belief in its accuracy, visual imagery, auditory imagery, setting, emotional intensity, valence, narrative coherence, and centrality to the life story were obtained from 988 adults whose ages ranged from 15 to over 90. Another 992 adults provided the same ratings for a memory from their confirmation day, when they were at about age 14. The frequencies of involuntary and voluntary retrieval were similar. Both frequencies were predicted by emotional intensity and centrality to the life story. The results from the present study-which is the first to measure the frequency of voluntary and involuntary retrieval for the same events-are counter to both cognitive and clinical theories, which consistently claim that involuntary memories are infrequent as compared with voluntary memories. Age and gender differences are noted.





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Rubin, David C, and Dorthe Berntsen (2009). The frequency of voluntary and involuntary autobiographical memories across the life span. Mem Cognit, 37(5). pp. 679–688. 10.3758/37.5.679 Retrieved from

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David C. Rubin

Juanita M. Kreps Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience

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My main research interest has been in long-term memory, especially for complex (or "real-world") stimuli. This work includes the study of autobiographical memory and oral traditions, as well as prose. I have also studied memory as it is more commonly done in experimental psychology laboratories using lists. In addition to this purely behavioral research, which I plan to continue, I work on memory in clinical populations with the aid of a National Institute of Mental Health grant to study PTSD and on the underlying neural basis of memory the aid of a National Institute of Aging grant to study autobiographical memory using fMRI.

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