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Non-Episodic Autobiographical Memory Details Reflect Attempts to Tell a Good Story

Mair, A., Poirier, M. ORCID: 0000-0002-1169-6424 & Conway, M. A. (2024). Non-Episodic Autobiographical Memory Details Reflect Attempts to Tell a Good Story. Psychology and Aging,


A persistent finding in the autobiographical memory (AM) literature is that older adults report more non-episodic (or generalised/semantic) information than young adults. Since studies are usually focused on memory for episodic (or specific) autobiographical events, the reason for the age difference in non-episodic AM remains under-studied. This experiment investigated whether the higher rate of non-episodic AM in older adults reflects (a) a difference incommunicative preferences, or (b) cognitive decline, by way of either an inhibition deficit or as a means of compensating for a deficit in episodic AM. A sample of 54 young (N=28, age range 18-46) and older (N=26, age range=62-86) participants retrieved the same AM twice, under two different sets of instructions: to tell a good story for their autobiography, or to provide a detailed police witness statement. Both groups reported more general details when they were aiming to tell a good story. In addition, older adults also reported fewer specific details when the aim was to tell a good story. In a separate ranking task, young and older adults differed in their perceptions of what makes a good story; young adults ranked ‘detail’, ‘grammar’, and ‘full descriptions’ more highly than older adults, whereas older ranked ‘linking ideas’ and ‘explaining not just describing’ more highly than young adults. The results suggest that age-related differences in non-episodic AM might be explained by communicative preferences rather than cognitive decline.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: ©American Psychological Association, [2024]. This paper is not the copy of record and may not exactly replicate the authoritative document published in the APA journal. The final article is available, upon publication, at: A Postdoctoral Fellowship from the British Academy was awarded to the first author, Dr Ali Mair.
Publisher Keywords: Autobiographical memory; episodic memory; personal semantics
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
SWORD Depositor:
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