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Immigration, language proficiency, and autobiographical memories: Lifespan distribution and second-language access

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This investigation examined two controversies in the autobiographical literature: how cross-language immigration affects the distribution of autobiographical memories across the lifespan and under what circumstances language-dependent recall is observed. Both Spanish/English bilingual immigrants and English monolingual non-immigrants participated in a cue word study, with the bilingual sample taking part in a within-subject language manipulation. The expected bump in the number of memories from early life was observed for non-immigrants but not immigrants, who reported more memories for events surrounding immigration. Aspects of the methodology addressed possible reasons for past discrepant findings. Language-dependent recall was influenced by second-language proficiency. Results were interpreted as evidence that bilinguals with high second-language proficiency, in contrast to those with lower second-language proficiency, access a single conceptual store through either language. The final multi-level model predicting language-dependent recall, including second-language proficiency, age of immigration, internal language, and cue word language, explained ¾ of the between-person variance and 1/5 of the within-person variance. We arrive at two conclusions. First, major life transitions influence the distribution of memories. Second, concept representation across multiple languages follows a developmental model. In addition, the results underscore the importance of considering language experience in research involving memory reports.
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Keywords: Autobiographical memory; Bilingual; Cross-language immigration; Language-dependent recall; Reminiscence bump

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA 2: Department of Psychology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, USA

Publication date: August 8, 2016

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