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Developmental changes in consistency of autobiographical memories: adolescents’ and young adults’ repeated recall of recent and distance events

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Autobiographical memories contribute continuity and stability to one’s self yet they also are subject to change: they can be forgotten or be inconsistently remembered and reported. In the present research, we compared the consistency of two reports of recent and distant personal events in adolescents (12- to 14-year-olds) and young adults (18- to 23-year-olds). In line with expectations of greater mnemonic consistency among young adults relative to adolescents, adolescents reported the same events 80% of the time compared with 90% consistency among young adults; the significant difference disappeared after taking into consideration narrative characteristics of individual memories. Neither age group showed high levels of content consistency (30% vs. 36%); young adults were more consistent than adolescents even after controlling for other potential predictors of content consistency. Adolescents and young adults did not differ in consistency of estimating when their past experiences occurred. Multilevel modelling indicated that the level of thematic coherence of the initial memory report and ratings of event valence significantly predicted memory consistency at the level of the event. Thematic coherence was a significant negative predictor of content consistency. The findings suggest a developmental progression in the robustness and stability of personal memories between adolescence and young adulthood.
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Keywords: Memory consistency; adolescents; autobiographical memory; development; narratives

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Psychology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA

Publication date: September 14, 2017

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