Personal-event memory

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A personal-event memory is an individual's memory of an event from a certain moment of time. Its defining characteristics are that it is for a specific event; includes vivid multi-sensory elements (sights, sounds, smalls, body positions, etc); is usually recalled in detail; and is usually believed by the individual to be an accurate representation of the event.[1]

Relation to other types of memory[edit]

Both flashbulb memory and personal-event memory contain highly vivid details and sensory qualities for a specific moment in time. They both also have a belief in accuracy of the event remembered. However, while flashbulb memories focus on events that are extremely salient and focus on the reception of shocking news, personal-event memories can include a wide variety of events that simply just stand out in the mind.

Episodic memory and personal-event memories both are recollections of an event in one’s life. A personal-event memory is a more specific type of episodic memory in that there is more detail and sensory qualities to a personal-event memory.

Neurological components[edit]

Studies have shown that activity in the hippocampus is vital to the recollection of personal-event memories.[2] Atrophy of the hippocampus due to aging in humans has been shown to decrease recollection of personal events.[3]

The amygdala also has been linked to personal-event memory storage and retrieval. Laboratory studies have demonstrated more activity in the amygdala and hippocampus for recollection of emotional memories. The emotional component of these memories seems to play an important role in their ease of retrieval.[4]

9/11 study[edit]

A study examined the memory of a group of Canadian students for the events of September 11, 2001 that took place in the United States. Pezdek hypothesized that whereas event memory would be better than autobiographical memory for a group that was personally involved with the event (i.e. people in New York where the attacks occurred), the reverse would be true for a group that was less involved, such as the Canadian sample. They found that memory for event information was less consistent than memory for autobiographical information. They also found that subjects recalled more information about the personal circumstances and feelings surrounding the event than they did about the actual event. Furthermore they found that the personal-event memory was significantly more accurate and more consistent in those participants who had experienced high arousal on hearing the news than in those who had experiences relatively little arousal. This better recall of the events of 9/11 for those who had experienced greater arousal supports Pezdek’s hypotheses that personal-event memory improves with higher levels of experienced emotion. Finally, they found that event memory is positively correlated with level of emotional arousal and shows significant decline with time.[5]

Event clusters[edit]

The study indicates that memorable personal events, regardless of age or importance, are often embedded in event clusters and that events organized by these clusters, like episodes in a story, are often causally related, temporally proximate, and similar in content.[6] It can also be argued that the clusters are created when people plan, execute, and evaluate meaningful action sequences and that subsequent rehearsal or narration serves to maintain or strengthen associations between clustered events.

Reminiscence bump[edit]

Main article: Reminiscence bump

Researchers have found that there seems to be a "reminiscence bump" where older adults recall more memories from their adolescence to early adulthood years. It seems to researchers that the memories of first-time or novel events during this time stand out in memory later in life.[7] In other words, memories of a first time personal experience stand out better in the mind than memories of repetition or routine. The exact reason for this reminiscence bump, however, is unknown.


  1. ^ Pillemer DB (1998). Momentous Events, Vivid Memories. Harvard University Press. pp. 50-1. ISBN 978-0-674-58205-7. 
  2. ^ Squire LR; Schacter DL (2003). Neuropsychology of Memory (3rd ed.). Guilford Press. pp. 6. ISBN 978-1-57230-898-5. 
  3. ^ Schiltz, K.; Szentkuti, A.; Guderian, S.; Kaufmann, J.; Münte, T. F.; Heinze, H. J.; Düzel, E. (2006). "Relationship between Hippocampal Structure and Memory Function in Elderly Humans". Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 18 (6): 990–1003. doi:10.1162/jocn.2006.18.6.990. PMID 16839305.  edit
  4. ^ Dolcos, F.; Labar, K. S.; Cabeza, R. (2005). "Remembering one year later: Role of the amygdala and the medial temporal lobe memory system in retrieving emotional memories". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 102 (7): 2626–2631. doi:10.1073/pnas.0409848102. PMC 548968. PMID 15703295.  edit
  5. ^ Smith, M. C.; Bibi, U.; Sheard, D. E. (2003). "Evidence for the differential impact of time and emotion on personal and event memories for September 11, 2001". Applied Cognitive Psychology 17 (9): 1047. doi:10.1002/acp.981.  edit
  6. ^ Brown, N. R.; Schopflocher, D. (1998). "Event Clusters: An Organization of Personal Events in Autobiographical Memory". Psychological Science 9 (6): 470. doi:10.1111/1467-9280.00087.  edit
  7. ^ Janssen, S. M. J.; Murre, J. M. J. (2008). "Reminiscence bump in autobiographical memory: Unexplained by novelty, emotionality, valence, or importance of personal events". The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 61 (12): 1847–1860. doi:10.1080/17470210701774242. PMID 19031155.  edit