Behavior Research Methods

, Volume 51, Issue 4, pp 1510–1530 | Cite as

Autobiographical recall of personally familiar names and temporal information in e-mails: An automatic analytic approach using e-mail communications

  • Abhilasha A. KumarEmail author
  • Sudheendra Hangal
  • Allyson C. Rosen


An important question that arises from autobiographical memory research is whether the variables that influence memory in the laboratory also drive memory for autobiographical episodes in real life. We explored this question within the context of e-mail communications and investigated the variables that influence recall for personally familiar names and temporal information in e-mails. We designed a Web-based program that analyzed each participant’s year-old sent e-mail archive and applied textual analysis algorithms to identify a set of sentences likely to be memorable. These sentences were then used as the stimuli in a cued recall task. Participants saw two sentences from their sent e-mail as a cue and attempted to recall the name of the e-mail recipient. Participants also rated the vividness of recall for the e-mail conversation and estimated the month in which they had written the e-mail. Linear mixed-effect analyses revealed that recipient name recall accuracy decreased with longer retention intervals and increased with greater frequency of contact with the recipient. Also, with longer retention intervals, participants dated e-mails as being more recent than their actual month. This telescoping error was moderately larger for e-mails with greater sentiment. These findings suggest that memory for personally familiar names and temporal information in e-mails closely follows the patterns for autobiographical memory and proper-name recall found in laboratory settings. This study introduces an innovative, Web-based experimental method for studying the cognitive processes related to autobiographical memories using ecologically valid, naturalistic communications.


Autobiographical memory Text mining Natural language processing 


Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Abhilasha A. Kumar
    • 1
    Email author
  • Sudheendra Hangal
    • 2
  • Allyson C. Rosen
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Psychological & Brain SciencesWashington UniversitySt LouisUSA
  2. 2.Department of Computer ScienceAshoka UniversitySonipatIndia
  3. 3.Department of PsychiatryStanford UniversityStanfordUSA

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