Cultural life scripts structure recall from autobiographical memory

Abstract

Three classes of evidence demonstrate the existence oflife scripts, or culturally shared representations of the timing of major transitional life events. First, a reanalysis of earlier studies on age norms shows an increase in the number of transitional events between the ages of 15 and 30 years, and these events are associated with narrower age ranges and more positive emotion than events outside this period. Second, 1,485 Danes estimated how old hypothetical centenarians were when they had been happiest, saddest, most afraid, most in love, and had their most important and most traumatic experiences. Only the number of positive events showed an increase between the ages of 15 and 30 years. Third, undergraduates generated seven important events that were likely to occur in the life of a newborn. Pleasantness and whether events were expected to occur between the ages of 15 and 30 years predicted how frequently events were recorded. Life scripts provide an alternative explanation of the reminiscence bump. Emphasis is on culture, not individuals.

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Correspondence to Dorthe Berntsen.

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This work was supported by a grant from the Danish Research Council for the Humanities. The data for Study 1 were collected by Gallup Public, Denmark.

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Berntsen, D., Rubin, D.C. Cultural life scripts structure recall from autobiographical memory. Memory & Cognition 32, 427–442 (2004). https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03195836

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Keywords

  • Confidence Rating
  • Autobiographical Memory
  • Life Story
  • Transitional Event
  • Negative Memory