Rewriting the past: some factors affecting the variability of personal memories

Anderson, Stephen J.; Cohen, Gillian and Taylor, Stephanie (2000). Rewriting the past: some factors affecting the variability of personal memories. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 14(5) pp. 435–454.



Three experiments assessed the variability of autobiographic memories and investigated the effects of age of the person, the age of the memory and memory characteristics. Using different paradigms to examine repeated recall of the same memories all three experiments showed that the memories of the older adults were more stable in terms of the content. The memories of the younger group showed greater variability across successive recalls. Experiment 3 also showed that the order in which older people recalled memory details was relatively consistent: younger adults showed greater variability in output order. Variability was also significantly affected by the age of the memory with older memories being less variable. No significant effects of memory characteristics (importance, emotion and frequency of rehearsal) were detected. Several explanations for these findings were considered. It was concluded that the personal memories of older people tend to be reproduced from a fixed precompiled representation whereas young people's memories are dynamically reconstructed on each occasion of recall.

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