5 June 2011

Autobiographical memory in cognitive psychology

Autobiographical memory in cognitive psychology (Conway & Pleydell-Pearce, 2000; Welzer & Markowitsch, 2005; Williams & Conway, 2009) is an integration of features and contents from long-term memory systems – episodic memory, semantic memory and procedural memory. In functional terms, autobiographical memory operates by integrating beliefs and expectations from long-term memory systems (Markowitsch, 2008; Welzer & Markowitsch, 2005). This is why autobiographical memory is always a malleable reconstruction of the past unfolding in the present. It is largely sustained by subjective as well as culturally shared social knowledge of the world in which, naturally, a self-schema (who I was, who I am, who I will be, etc.) is also embedded.

Autobiographical memory operates to sustain a network of personal aims over the course of a person’s life. For normal healthy humans this ability to reminisce about specific past events is an integral part of our daily lives. We often take it for granted because these autobiographical memories are normally involuntary, and often without any deliberate intent to remember. However, not all humans are capable of autobiographical remembering. Indeed, autobiographical memory develops relatively late (Nelson, 2003), and is also the most fragile kind of memory, the first to be lost in Alzheimer’s disease and other debilitating neurodegenerative diseases of the mind.


Conway, M. A. & Pleydell- Pearce, C. W. (2000). The construction of autobiographical memories in the self-memory system. Psychological Review 107, 261-288.

Markowitsch, H.J. (2008). Cultural memory and the neurosciences. In A. Erll & A. Nünning (eds.), Cultural Memory Studies. An International and Interdisciplinary Handbook (pp.275-283). Berlin/New York: de Gruyter.

Nelson, K. (2003). Self and social functions: Individual autobiographical memory and collective narrative. Memory, 11 (2), 125-136.

Welzer, H. & Markowitsch, H.J. (2005). Towards a bio-psycho-social model of autobiographical memory. Memory, 13, 63-78.

Williams, H. & Conway, M.A. (2009). Networks of autobiographical memories. In P. Boyer & J. Wertsch (eds.), Memory in Mind and Culture (pp.33-61). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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