Life span development of autobiographical memory: early childhood to old age

Main area 2

At which age and under which conditions are young children capable of consciously remembering events from their past? And what happens to this ability in old age? The studies in this area build upon the methodologies and theoretical insights described under Main area 1. Anecdotal observations suggest the existence of involuntary spontaneous recall in young children, but no systematic studies have been conducted. We take advantage of insights from other areas of our research on the activation of involuntary autobiographical memories (described under Main Area 1) in order to induce involuntary recollections in young children. In the encoding phase, the children participate in a highly unique event, which involves surprise. After a delay, such as one month later the child is brought back to the lab, presented with the same setup. This unique feature combination is expected to work as a cue with high discriminability. In addition to involuntary memories, we are also interested in event segmentation and deferred imitation in this population.

At the other end of the life span, we examine the effects of a total immersion in a holistic and historically authentic 1950s environment with the goal of providing multidimensional (involuntary) cueing of autobiographical memories in older individuals with cognitive impairment and dementia. This project is based upon collaboration with the open-air museum of urban history and culture, The Old Town [Den Gamle By] in Aarhus. It is well-established that memories of childhood and young adulthood are better preserved than memories from more recent periods in older individuals with dementia. It is also well-established that people with dementia have difficulties with strategically retrieving autobiographical memories. One way of compensating for this deficit would be to provide them with cues that potentially match their reserve of memories from the earlier periods of their life. Spontaneous activations of such memories may help to sustain a sense of identity and thus improve daily well-being and ability to function.