Description of Autobiographical Memory Interests

My interests in autobiographical memory were sparked when I spent a year at a temporary faculty member at Kansas State University. While there I met Chuck Thompson, who was doing work in autobiographical memory. It seemed like it was fun work to do - and it is! Chuck's methodology was to have people record events in diaries and to try to predict the event's memorability and the accuracy of attempts to place the events in time from variables such as the event's valence and extremity. Plus, some of the entries in the diaries were a hell of a lot of fun to read - you'd be amazed at some of the things that got included in the diaries despite our pleas to participants to be discreet.

My recent research in this area has focused on three topics. One of them is peoples' ability to place events in time - just how does one know when one took that vacation trip to the Grand Canyon? There are a lot of reconstructive processes that need to take place to estimate when. However, I have also recently speculated that people might have a rough sense of when that is derived from the self. People can make a quick and dirty comparison of "the self-as-I-am-now" to "the self-as-I-was-then" and come up with a rough age for an event. This self-based mechanism also suggests that this self-based sense of time is not constant: Events should seem older after periods of tumultuous change in one's life than after periods of quiescence.

A second set of studies has explored how our memories make us feel. Our research team has found evidence (as have other teams ) that the sting of negative events dissipates with time - that failed relationship that crushed us at age 16 no longer feels bad when it is remembered at age 35. However, in contrast to research by others, our team has explored similar effects for recalled positive events. We found that the positive glow of the good events in our lives tends to remain: One still feels good about that game winning home run that one hit in little league, even 30 years after the event. Our future research in this area will try to gain insight into the mechanisms underlying this effect. For example, one idea is that talking about events has different effects on the emotions associated with negative and positive events - it helps the sting go away for the bad stuff, but helps the pleasure remain for the good stuff.

A third set of studies focuses more generally on the role that communication has in autobiographical memory. As is obvious from my descriptions of research, people communicate the events in their lives to others. Recent data that our team has collected suggests that such communications may be the most frequently used form of event rehearsal. That is, people may tall to others about the events in their lives more than they think about those events. We are just starting to think about studies that examine the effects of these communications. There are some obvious effects that might emerge (the more one talks about the event, the more likely one is to remember the event) and some less obvious ones (the more one talks about the event, the more likely it is that recall of some event details might dissipate or become distorted).

Ritchie, T. D., Skowronski, J. J., Wood, S. E., Walker, W. R., Vogl, R. J., & Gibbons, J. A. (In Press). Event self-importance, event rehearsal, and the fading affect bias in autobiographical memory. Self & Identity.


Ritchie, T.D., Skowronski, J.J., Walker, W.R., & Wood, S.E. (In Press). Comparing two perceived characteristics of autobiographical memory: Memory detail and accessibility. Memory.


Skowronski, J.J. (2005). In diversity there is strength: An autobiographical memory research sampler. Social Cognition, 23, 1-10.


Skowronski, J.J. (2004). Giving sight and voice to the blind mutes: An overview of theoretical ideas in autobiographical memory.  Social Cognition, 22, 451-459.


Skowronski, J.J., & Walker, R.W. (2004). How describing autobiographical events can affect autobiographical memory. Social Cognition, 22, 555-590.


Skowronski, J.J., Gibbons, J.A., Vogl, R.J, & Walker, W.R. (2004). The effect of social disclosure on the affective intensity provoked by autobiographical memories. Self & Identity, 3, 285-309.


Walker, W.R., Skworonski, J.J.,Gibbons, J.A., Vogl, R.J., & Thompson, C.P. (2003). On the emotions accompanying autobiographical memory: Dysphoria disrupts the fading affect bias. Cognition and Emotion, 17, 703-724.


Skowronski, J.J., Walker, W.R., & Betz, A.L. (2003). Ordering our world: An examination of time in autobiographical memory. Memory, 11, 247-260


Walker, W.R., Skowronski, J.J., & Thompson, C.P. (2003). Life is good - and memory helps to keep it that way. Review of General Psychology, 7, 203-210.