The functions of autobiographical memory: An integrative approach

Celia B. Harris, Anne S. Rasmussen, Dorthe Berntsen

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    121 Citations (Scopus)


    Recent research in cognitive psychology has emphasised the uses, or functions, of autobiographical memory. Theoretical and empirical approaches have focused on a three-function model: autobiographical memory serves self, directive, and social functions. In the reminiscence literature other taxonomies and additional functions have been postulated. We examined the relationships between functions proposed by these literatures, in order to broaden conceptualisations and make links between research traditions. In Study 1 we combined two measures of individual differences in the uses of autobiographical memory. Our results suggested four classes of memory functions, which we labelled Reflective, Generative, Ruminative, and Social. In Study 2 we tested relationships between our four functions and broader individual differences, and found conceptually consistent relationships. In Study 3 we found that memories cued by Generative and Social functions were more emotionally positive than were memories cued by Reflective and Ruminative functions. In Study 4 we found that reported use of Generative functions increased across the lifespan, while reported use of the other three functions decreased. Overall our findings suggest a broader view of autobiographical memory functions that links them to ways in which people make meaning of their selves, their environment, and their social world more generally.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)559-581
    Number of pages23
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


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