Friday, January 18, 2013

Your early 20s are particularly memorable

The basic finding is this: We remember more events from late adolescence and early adulthood than from any other stage of our lives. This phenomenon is called the reminiscence bump. ...

Autobiographical memories are not distributed equally across the lifespan. Instead, people tend to experience a period of childhood amnesia between birth and age 5, a reminiscence bump between age 10 and age 30 (with a particular concentration of memories in the early 20s), and at any age, a vivid period of recency from the present waning back to the end of the reminiscence bump. ...

...scientists also noted that the brain transcribes novel experiences more readily than mundane ones... Might the reminiscence bump reflect the fact that late adolescence and early adulthood are suffused with “firsts” (first relationship, first time leaving home, first job, first marriage, first child)? ...

Yet the cognitive account of the reminiscence bump leaves many questions unanswered. It doesn’t explain why only a small portion of the memories that constitute the bump relate to novel experiences. Nor can a hypothesis grounded in mnemonic processes say much about the results of a 2010 study by Annette Bohn and Dorthe Berntsen, who created a form of reminiscence bump in schoolchildren without asking them to remember a thing. They asked a large group of students, aged 10 to 14, to write their life stories. Most of the future events the kids dreamed up clustered around young adulthood. If the reminiscence bump were merely an offshoot of how our brains store memories, the researchers argued, the children wouldn’t have also privileged their 20s when projecting ahead.

Such findings lend credence to an alternate theory about the bump, one soaked in what’s become known as the “narrative perspective.” This approach focuses not on the mechanics of memory but on its underlying motivational factors. It suggests that we organize remembered events in ways that help us understand who we are.
--Katy Waldman, Slate, on the decade that isn't a blur