The prevalence and impact of autobiographical memories through thematic categorical classification: their impact on self-identity and self-expression

Thematic Analysis


Master's Thesis, 2015
71 Pages, Grade: Merit

Excerpt

Contents

Contents

Acknowledgements

Abstract

Introduction
Historical background to Autobiographical Memory
Theoretical basis for autobiographical memory
Justification for research categorical factors
Cognitive and Neurobiological approach to autobiographical memory
Theoretical basis for the ‘self’ and memory
Methodological implications for autobiographical memory studies
Social, developmental and cultural implications
Theoretical basis for ‘episodic future thinking’
Hypothesis: Key points

Methodology
Participants
Materials
Design
Data Analysis (Qualitative)
Procedure
Ethics

Results
Thematic analysis

Discussion

References

Appendices

Acknowledgements

I would like to express my profound gratitude towards Miss Jade Denford, my heart, my soul, my love. I thank you for giving me the support and will to carry on despite the hardships.

I would also like to thank my supervisor Dr.Christine Wells for her perseverance and patience during this duration.

Abstract

This mixed methods study investigated the effects of autobiographical memories on future thinking and decision-making. The quantitative rating scores served as a means of obtaining a direct correlation to investigate which areas memory were most significant to future thinking/decision-making, self-reported by the participants. The study consisted primarily of a thematic analysis of participants qualitative responses in relation to three themes to test the three proposed hypotheses of the study.Firstly, autobiographical memories are primarily functions of goal construction. Secondly, those memories are congruent to the self, and likely to place the participant at the centre of all previous experiences/events. Thirdly, since it is hypothesized that there will be an egocentric element to the responses, this should coincide with increased pronoun density. The third thematic discourse theme has analysed selective examples of the use of (I, me and my) in qualitative literary expressions recorded. A total of 46 participants participated, with 33 fully completing the survey. The richness of the memories suggests novel experimentation may be needed in future analysis; participant discourses were widespread. However family and school memories were rated as the most significant influences on future thinking/decision-making. Findings are discussed from a social psychology viewpoint in relation to past literature and thematic analysis.

Introduction

'Galaxies and stars are born, and they die, living creatures are young before they grow old, causes always precede effects, there is no return to yesterday, and so on and on. Time's flow is irreversible. The singular exception is provided by the human ability to remember past happenings' (Tulving, 2002, 1).

The notion of 'autobiographical memory' (AM) is a recent convention within psychological literature that explains the function and structure of human memory; a unique feature of episodic memory (Tulving, 2002; Conway, 2004; 2005; 2009; Prebble et al, 2013; Pause et al, 2013; Baddeley et al, 2015; Eysenck, 2015). Autobiographical memory is defined as a complex mental system that allows people to recollect information, events, and experiences from their past (Prebble et al, 2013; Williams, Conway and Cohen, 2008). Autobiographical memory refers to a form of episodic memory that often has an emotional component that allows us to recall something that happened at a particular time and place, and constructs a life narrative, often of an event or experience (Nelson, 1993; Howe et al, 2003; McAdams, 2008). The distinction between the two separate forms of episodic representation is that autobiographical memory is not just the memory retrieval of an event/experience (long-term declarative memory) but an interaction with the 'self' (Tulving, 2002; Conway, 2005; Wilbers, 2012). Episodic memories recall past events, whilst autobiographical memories includes memories of the self as the experiencer of the event (Fivush, 2011). Autobiographical memories tend to be far more complex then episodic memories, with a far larger pool of memories that go back in the persons past significantly longer (Eysenck, 2015). There is a link formed between past memories and the creation of a personal history that relates the self to the past, present and future. This idea of experiencing the event is known as 'autonoetic awareness' coined by Tulving (2002, 2). A term designed to reflect the self-reflection of the rememberer on the contents of episodic memory (Baddeley et al, 2015). The person experiencing the past memory is able to engage in a form of ‘mental time travel’, which enables the experiencer to go back into the far distant past or future if cognitively desired (Atance et al, 2001; Tulving, 2002; Naito et al, 2011; Argembeau et al, 2011; Bernsten and Bohn, 2010). It is also important to note that despite the subjective nature of memory with its capacity to be open to biases, source monitoring biases, absent-mindedness and the implantation of misinformation (Rubin et al, 2012). It is believed to be an event that has taken place, in the mind of the individual this is what has been, and will be; an event that has taken place in the persons past (Scorboria et al, 2014). Conway et al (2004) suggests that the importance of autobiographical memory is that it grounds the individual with a sense of continuity and coherence (Reese et al, 2010) as to who they are as a person; autobiographical memory is therefore essential to self-identity and the formation of the concept of the 'self'. As a social component and an intrinsic function of social integration it also allows us to develop a sense of identity that is comparative to the perceived identities of the collective around us; this assists us with maintaining social and emotional bonds with others that occur through the process of reminiscing of episodic events (Nelson, 1993; Howe et al, 2003; Nelson and Fivush, 2004). Autobiographical memory therefore is indeed a ‘true marvel of nature’ (Tulving, 2002) which warrants further exploration within interdisciplinary sub-sections of psychological enquiry; developmental, cognitive, social and health for example. It is important that these separate disciplines start to integrate and merge to become interdisciplinary within autobiographical memory research; the current limitation to autobiographical memory research is that it has been viewed as distinct and separate, with little cohesion between the psychological schools of thought (Prebble et al, 2013). As Bauer et al (2007) has argued autobiographical memory theorists are like blind people feeling part of the elephant and claiming it for the whole; cognitive and linguistic theorists particularly are indicative of this statement. Although it has been recognised that autobiographical memory primarily develops in social and cultural contexts (Bauer et al, 2010) making social investigation, and inclusion of social and cultural influences in studies a prerogative for grasping the richness of these memories and their influence on the self (Fivush et al, 1992; Belli, 1998).

Historical background to Autobiographical Memory

There have been attempts to observe autobiographical memory as a distinct facet of human memory with the need for single experimentation in controlled environments, leaving social influences largely devoid from the investigation (Baddeley et al, 2015). The main father of this notion derived from memory researchers such as Hermann Ebbinghaus(1913/1964) who wished to reduce the interference of social factors in order to obtain the pure raw data on memory function. This however is a reductive approach since social factors may render autobiographical memory a non-memorial judgement, which is strongly influenced by environmental factors (Scoboria et al, 2014). It has been contested that this social influence represents a form of theoretical social constructionism which seeks to reduce the determinist argument or the essentialist argument by stressing the role of the collective over the individuals perceived sense of autonomy; for example youth sub cultures who perceive themselves to be acting against a social norm, but rather instead replace the existing norm with an opposing one. However, regardless of the motivations of social theorists, the premise of a significance of social influence upon the construction of autobiographical memories remains important (Bauer et al, 2010). Therefore the author, in line with the theoretical premise of Frederick Bartlett and Vygotsky, argues that the approach to memory should be viewed from a socio-historical perspective; (Baddeley et al, 2015) critics argue this represents a social constructionist dominance over cognition and other domains, however the theory does not necessarily stress that there isn't a role for the individual and their cognitive functions. Bartlett's importance was that he accurately stated that studies in laboratories, constraining external variables would lead to reductive conclusions into the content, retrieval and power of autobiographical memories on the psyche. Remembering is therefore reconstructive, and largely influences and reconstructs the self-schema from past experiences and social interactions. The author therefore stresses that a theoretical premise of social psychology is important for identifying the potency of autobiographical memories on the self and future decision making (Atance et al, 2005; Friedman, 2005). Conway's (2005) hypothesis is that AM is fundamentally about assigning goal-seeking behaviours, therefore this is largely a social pursuit by the individual, and suggests the thought-processing of the individual is important for identifying areas of occurrence; this can only be studied from a social perspective because it relies on self-disclosure, which although limited and prone to memory reconstruction and biases, is nonetheless important for studying how individuals perceive these memories (Walker et al, 2003; Earles et al, 2008). Recent developments upon Conway's hypothesis suggest that autobiographical memory may have a different function; to enable individuals to imagine possible future outcomes and events (Schacter and Addis, 2007; Addis et al, 2007; Naito et al, 2011). The content of these future scenarios and events remains unexplored, with no known study by the author into individual expression of these scenarios. A gap therefore exists for a qualitative self-reporting structure that allows for freedom of expression of how the subject perceives their own memories, regardless of the known memory distortions (Pause et al, 2013), the questionnaire method proposed accounts for freedom of expression without forced questions or directing the response of the participant to novel memories; allowing for the encapsulation of these dynamic, rich memories (Bauer, 2007; Bauer et al, 2010). A thematic analysis can then be used to determine whether certain themes arise from these largely social situations in order to apply appropriate conclusions that reflect the richness of the data. A contexualist approach of both essentialist and constructionist elements will allow for the observation of what participants have said, whilst applying a social constructionist theoretical framework to the data (Braun and Clark, 2006).

Theoretical basis for autobiographical memory

This social function is just one of the hypothesized areas of autobiographical memory functions. There are four areas of function that have been proposed by Williams, Conway and Cohen (2008). One, is as explained the social function, but there are also the directive functions; for example what happened the last time you did something? What was the perceived meaning of the event? This explains the basic premise of autobiographical memory, which is the narrative component of autobiographical memory. Secondly, there is the self-representation function, which plays an important role of using AM to help the ‘self’ perceive who it is, and maintain our view of our self. Thirdly, there is the function of adversity, where memories are recalled to fend off negative mood congruent memories. For example, when we are depressed we can recall negative memories far more readily (Howe et al, 2003). The adversity function is like a mental defence mechanism against this experience, and limits negative autobiographical memories from entering our conscious thought. Aside from Conway’s (2005) model this remains the closest to a theoretical framework for the scientific investigation of autobiographical memory. The area remains largely devoid of theoretical underpinning and established methodological measurements. As such it remains a difficult task for autobiographical memory researchers to devise an adequate methodology for the broad spectrum of autobiographical memories, which may be difficult or rather misleading to deposit them into categorical classification (Baddeley et al, 2015). But, Conway (2005) has constructed a model of autobiographical memory which will enable researchers to directly apply theory to scientific research findings. Conway (2005) argues that autobiographical memory is essentially transitory, and that it relies on other memory functions to be recollected and have significance to the self-schema. He proposed the function of an autobiographical knowledge base, which stores life-periods ranging from very abstract episodes in the persons personal past, too episodes which are sensory and perceptual in nature. This knowledge base then interacts with the ‘working self’ function to be able to construct memories of emotional relevance to the persons past. The notion is very similar to that of working memory and interaction with cognitive processes, such as reading aloud and spoken-word recognition (Baddeley, 1992). It was the first attempt made at explaining the 'self' and its interactions with memory; so far there has been little in the way of scientific progress to devise a stronger theoretical framework. However, AM research has gradually been increasing in interest (Baddeley et al, 2015). Conway’s (2005) definitions and theoretical processes account for the understanding of the research to be conducted on AM categorical classification. It is hypothesized that the autobiographical knowledge base creates an overall life story/narrative that is separated into broad themes and time-spans such as work and personal relationships. The study to be conducted has separated the autobiographical memory self-constructed questionnaire into categorical facets that are relevant to the typical life-stages that are common to most of us; being an undergraduate, and our first job for example (Howe et al, 2003). This also has the added methodological strength of being able to identify the strongest relevance of AM in areas such as school, work, and various other sub-categories of the typical human lifespan. Once these have been identified, the qualitative aspect is necessary for exploring why people assume these sub-lifespan memories are perceived to be important for future decision-making and thought processing. In regards to decision-making for instance, future goal orientated behaviour such as choosing a career path should be intrinsic to the interaction of the working self and autobiographical knowledge that was hypothesized by Conway (2005). Conway and Jobson (2012) have argued that the fundamental operation of autobiographical memory is goal-related, with different goals resulting from external social forces such as the culture around them. Therefore this hypothesis by Conway and Jobson (2012) leaves the social question as to what these goal-related behaviours are, and how and to what extent do they change from events and experiences in the persons past. However research conducted by Hyman and Faries (1992) investigated memories that people had been discussing with one another during social interaction. They found little evidence of the reminiscing of episodic memories to be used for future problem solving scenarios, but rather a strong connection between AM and the directive use of sharing experiences, and using these past experiences to pass on guidance and advice from past recollections. This research suggests memory serves a reflective purpose, rather than an interactive practical application from previous memories of the experiencer. In short, past recollection does not guarantee a change in thinking, decision-making or life goals. The social function is clearly dominant from these findings, with the past experiences being used to provide guidance externally to others, rather than internal self-retrospection. The mind is able to project the lessons of these past experiences onto others, but seldom applies these (consequences) to the individuals own life. The findings of this study oppose the hypothesis developed by Conway (2005; 2009) who hypothesized that autobiographical memory plays a primary function in the adaptive pursuit of short-term goals, with a reflective element of self-assessment on goal processing and where one stands currently in relation to their perceived goals; coined the ‘goal space’ of an individual (Conway, 2009, 17). They also act upon these reflections with ‘adaptive self-initiated actions’ (Conway, 2009, 3). This reflects the gap in existing literature for a categorical approach to providing definitions for these social functions, and whether they have any effect on a person’s pre-emptive future thinking and decision making processes (prospective memory); not merely the past or present state of mind; particularly in regards to future goal-seeking behaviour, like career aspirations.

Justification for research categorical factors

Evidence suggests that children as young as 8 are aware of what a typical life within a culture may look like in regards to life transition stages (Bernsten and Bohn, 2010) e.g. graduation, school and marriage. These life transition stages are a core component of the study of prevalence of AM to be conducted. The familial component is particularly prevalent, with family stories and memories of parents reflecting strongly on defining the self in relation to others (Fivush et al, 2010). It is therefore quite clear that sociability within our surrounding environment is a core principle for the development of autobiographical memory; the role of social interaction amongst others, the notion of life as a conversation from which you create a schema upon suggests we create a personal life story through the application of articulating our experiences with others (Howe et al, 2003). This social integration has a fundamental basis of forming the ‘self-concept’, a term used in the Welch-Ross (1995) integrative model of autobiographical memory to explain the necessity and importance of social interactions in forming AM. The role of autobiographical memory has until recently largely been intrinsically applied as a goal-orientation function, however there are developments suggesting that autobiographical beliefs influence the behaviour of the individual, contrary to Hyman and Faries (1992) findings of little, to no self-response to these memories. Recent findings done by Scoboria et al (2008) and Pezdek& Salim (2011) have shown that beliefs do influence future responses to situations. These beliefs are hypothesized to lead to emotive responses in future experiences; therefore this study wishes to assess this conclusion by conducting a thematic analysis of memory and their ability to create motivation in individual decisions.

Cognitive and Neurobiological approach to autobiographical memory

There have been major breakthroughs within the cognitive domain to establish autobiographical memory as relevant to the study of cognition. It has been referred to as a 'complex cognitive-affective system' (Wells et al, 2014) thus establishing the dominance of the cognitive perspective over scientific experimentation into autobiographical facets of mental representation. The roots of autobiographical memory are largely rooted in the notion of the 'cognitive self' (Howe and Courage, 1993; Hassabis et al. 2007; Howe et al, 2003). The cognitive self also explains the notion developed by Tulving (1984) of autonoetic consciousness which is likely to form around the age of 4 in children, (Howe et al, 2003) when cognitive processes of language acquisition and long term memory start to rapidly develop as the child develops into early adolescence. There have been large quantities of memory researchers who have investigated the cognitive component of episodic memory, with many cue-related recall studies and a cognitive neuroscience approach to investigating the properties of episodic-like memories (Yonelinas, 2002; McCabe et al, 2011; Unsworth et al, 2011).Gilboa (2004) discussed the meta-analytic difference and evidence of episodic and autobiographical brain activity; results of the brain scans showed increased activity in the left ventromedial prefrontal cortex for autobiographical memories than episodic memories, whilst this activity was higher in the mid-dorsolateral pre-frontal cortex for episodic memory; probably because of increased regulation to minimise error of memories, autobiographical ones however rely on representations from activated knowledge. Therefore AM applied to the imagined future is likely to be a distorted projection, but may reveal interesting self-perceptions and insight into personal narratives we construct (Nelson, 1993). However, despite the advancement and predominance of cognitive exploration; this has shown the social investigation and enquiry to be rather lacking, with the entire school of thought seemingly disinterested with investigating the area of enquiry. The area of autobiographical memory in relation to scientific investigation is very recent, with most researchers focusing on the semantic aspects of episodic memory, rather than autobiographical memory which are more diverse and emotionally rich (Wang et al, 2015). Therefore there is a large vacuum of unexplored areas, largely in the social domain where autobiographical comprehension has been left un-investigated. Pause et al (2013) argues that there is no current standardized test within the methodologies used to measure autobiographical memory. They argue for the assessment of novel episodic memories, rather than identifying autobiographical memories as a whole. However, although this isolationist approach would allow for strict, purposeful, criterion based research; there would be a limit on assessing the full scope of autobiographical memories because of its many influences from external individual differences;for instance parental reminiscing styles and other developmental influences (Howe et al, 2003). Pause et al's recommendation is akin to the proposal by Ebbinghaus and his ideal setting of laboratory, isolated memory investigation; as previously explained this will not advance scientific investigation into the richness of autobiographical memories and explore their ability to narrate, and provide continuity to the self.

Theoretical basis for the ‘self’ and memory

The research between the concept of the ‘self’ and autobiographical memory is quite arbitrary, and abstract, relying on broad and varying definitions to define the two concepts. The concept of the ‘self’ is considered metaphysical and ephemeral (Baars, 2003; Martin, 2005; Zahavi, 2005). This makes the scientific study, particularly in regards to forming a methodology, problematic for autobiographical memory researchers; even more so when applying the findings of these memories to the personhood of an individual. It becomes even more difficult to ensure that the methodology is scientific in nature. A theoretical basis for integrating the concept of the ‘self’ and autobiographical memory has been proposed by Prebble et al (2013). They composed a four sectional model for defining the self; this model integrates and connects with the theoretical framework of autobiographical memory proposed by Conway (2005) and subsequently Williams, Conway and Cohen (2008). The first function of the model of the self is the ‘subjective sense of self’ function, where we perceive ourselves to the world around us, and create a sense of unity to who we are as a person. This creates the second function, the ‘self-concept’ which forms a mental representation of who we are, and who we think we are. However, this continuity and unity of our subjective sense of self is guided by the passing of time (phenomenological continuity) and the way in which we mentally represent our sense of self becomes continuous (semantic continuity). The area of autobiographical memory represents the ‘I-self’ within the theoretical model, with the event or experience perceived to have had happened by the experiencer. Prebble et al (2013) distinguish from previous definitions by separating the self and autobiographical memory, instead of assuming that they are unitary constructs that are merged into one function. It is hypothesized that the memories are used to form a representation of the self, which creates the conceptual self which informs the way memories are stored, accessed and constructed; this is based on Conway’s hypothesis (2005). All of this is mediated by the sense of self-awareness, which is regarded to be a fundamental necessity for episodic memories (Tulving, 2002). Prebble et al have created a new theoretical basis for clarifying the relationship of the self to episodic and autobiographical memories; however, as concluded there is a need for good empirical evidence from studies before the theoretical framework can be viewed as accurate. Furthermore it continues and adapts from previous theoretical findings, with the notion of self-awareness and the relation to ‘cognitive self’ that was first developed by Howe and Courage (1993). A cognitive self is needed for a self-schema upon which autobiographical memories are able to form around; and stresses the need for an ‘I’ (I am experiencing) within the mirror self-recognition that Prebble et al (2013) incorporates into their model of the self. This however stresses the need for a child’s cognitive processes to construct itself as one develops, however, Nelson and Fivush (2004) importantly stress that self-development is not solely down to cognitive processes alone, but due to social influences, language development and individual differences which shape the capacity, retrieval and content of autobiographical memories.

Methodological implications for autobiographical memory studies

There are several limitations however to exploring the concept of autobiographical memory when soliciting self-reported memories from interviews or questionnaires; or other qualitative measures. Firstly, autobiographical memories are retrieved at the present time, and can be recollected; however they are likely to be narrated in many different forms over time, with different narratives of perceived events/experiences. It is also important to note how the subject believes that the event or experience did occur, however these memories do not necessarily have to be real events, which makes the reliability and accuracy of recall from subjects suspect to limitations and distortions (Pause et al, 2013). Furthermore most studies assume that participants can remember their autobiographical memory, and what function they play in their life; for instance in terms of goal-direction and future planning (Baddeley et al, 2015). These aspects may however be largely unconscious to the individual, and do not encapsulate the reactionary behaviour towards self-progression through previous experiences and events. In short it is very hard for individuals to pin-point events and experiences from the past and state that you have been affected in your behaviour from these events; the likelihood is there is a culmination of event(s) rather than an event which has shaped the person’s behaviour; and they may not be conscious as to the knowledge of why there has been behavioural changes in oneself. The approach of the cognitive self within theoretical frameworks and the dominance of cognitive psychology with measuring autobiographical memories have meant that quantitative methodologies are far more established then qualitative measures. This is due in part to the lack of social psychological investigation into AM (Howe et al, 2003; Prebble et al, 2013).

Social, developmental and cultural implications

Nelson and Fivush (2004) have created a social theoretical model for explaining the social perspective of autobiographical memory. It remains the predominant model, which applies a cultural, developmental and social perspective on the influences of autobiographical memories. They outline three critical arguments of the theory; firstly it is hypothesized that there are a gradual emergence of autobiographical memories during pre-school years, instead of the reductive conclusion of a cut off age of no autobiographical memories, and then a starting point for autobiographical memories beginning. Placing an age cut off results in generalization of the entire population; there are not enough studies done outside of western cultures, and the sample size for existing studies is largely low in quantity to merit strong external validity. Secondly, language acquisition is central to the development of an autobiographical memory system, particularly a semantic knowledge base from which to retrieve past experiences or events. Thirdly, the cultural differences, gender differences and individual differences account for significant alterations in autobiographical content, retrieval and storage across the lifespan of an individual. The models key strength is that it accounts for developmental, social and cognitive explanations, where as many of the other theories approach one or two explanatory constructs (Nelson and Fivush, 2004). This model is supported by numerous studies which are exploring these social and individual effects on autobiographical memory. A study by Mullen (1994) found that adults who thought about their earliest memories more often, tended to report earlier first memories. Reese et al (2010) expanded upon these findings by demonstrating that parents reminiscing styles had an effect on adolescents earliest memory recalls of life events, and their knowledge of family history. The language implications are also prevalent with empirical evidence showing open-ended questions from mothers during childhood are particularly important for recalling the earliest autobiographical memory (Jack et al, 2009). The importance of free flowing, non-repetitive, un-semantic material was particularly important for the development of autobiographical memory. This shows that individual difference factors of language acquisition and parental speech styles are factors that are relevant to the study of autobiographical memory. As Reese et al (2010) accurately concludes adolescent memories are a function of social interaction during early childhood, their current and past language development, their self-awareness and theory of mind; with overlapping enhancements of parental reminiscing styles strengthening theory of mind and early language development. Therefore it is imperative to approach autobiographical memories, not as novel experimentation in laboratories, but capture the participant in more naturalistic environments. Research findings also suggest the importance of social interaction for improved episodic retrieval of past memories. Mousavi-Nasab et al (2014) found in their study that individuals with a socially more engaged lifestyle tend to have better memory function, episodically, not semantically. These findings are consistent with other researchers who have investigated the effects of increased social interaction and higher levels of memory retrieval and cognition (Gallucci et al, 2009; Lovden et al, 2005). The social explanation shows that there is a need for an understanding of time and the construction of a personal timeline; a study that allows for this expression of individual perception without constraining through laboratory controls and novel memory targeting; most memories retrieved have been asked for by researchers of specific time periods, or major public events such as 9/11 in New York (Baddeley et al, 2015) which has led to reductive exploration of a wide range of memories that could be potentially retrieved.

Theoretical basis for ‘episodic future thinking’

Atance et al (2001) created the concept of ‘episodic future thinking’ to explore and explain the processes and functions of past experiences which are projected into the future by the observer to influence future thinking and decision making behaviour. They mainly based their theoretical framework on Tulving’s (2001, 2) concept of ‘autonoetic consciousness’, which explains the ability of humans to re-live previous experiences and to project these perceived incidents that occurred in the future. Atance et al (2001) define this process as ‘pre-experience’ of the event to come; it is only through the process of pre-imagining a thing that we need to do that creates the behaviour for future preparation; for instance goal-pursuit behaviours. It also offers an explanation of prospective memory, which refers to the thought processing of reminding our self to complete a certain action or task in the future (Kliegel et al, 2000). Furthermore, it suggests implications for goal attainment, which has been explored in Gollwitzer’s (1999, 1) notion of ‘implementation intentions’ which stress the where, how and what factors of completing goals. The gap and weakness however has been in the terminology and definitions that surround episodic future thinking (Atance et al, 2001). There have been no attempts found by the author to separate what sorts of elements encompass future thinking and future decisions. It is however widely believed by researchers that episodic remembering and episodic future thinking are supported by the same neurocognitive processes (Bernsten& Bohn, 2010; Naito et al, 2011). The process of extracting knowledge and episodic memory has to be flexible to allow for the mind to construct projections of future representations; Bernsten and Bohn's (2010) word-cue technique and qualitative request for important events found that imagined future events are less sensorially vivid then past events, but are more personally significant then past events. Furthermore, the imagined future events tended to be more positively biased then past events. Current research suggests that the life script is strongly biased towards positive events, and events that occur in young adulthood (Rubin, Bernsten& Hutson, 2009). Therefore in terms of the authors methodology with memories of success and failure, we can hypothesize participants will state increased influence in future thinking/decision-making from memories of success. This study attempts to address these weaknesses by implementing a quantitative 7-point scale of various definitions such as future career prospects.This defining of future thinking and decision making will make the findings of participants more specific in addressing what they perceive to have changed. Although the weakness of subjective narrating and existence does exist within this study, its strength is that it allows for the richness of autobiographical memories and the literary expression of immediate recall into what events and experiences they perceive to have affected their life in the future, and how they think about them. This is jointly achieved through a qualitative element of self-reporting, the literary element will be of interest in showing how they project their feelings through literary expression. A mixed method approach reflects the need for multiple means of measurement suggested by Pause et al (2013) and meets the criterion of Atance et al (2001) for multiple terminologies and definitions to provide increasing clarity of what defines future thinking and decision-making; a categorical approach has been implemented to separate different features such as future goal-seeking behaviour and various other social factors that have been demonstrated to influence autobiographical memory (Nelson, 1993; Howe et al, 2003; Fivush, 2011). In addition it accounts for the notion hypothesized by Conway (2005; 2009) that the autobiographical knowledge base creates time-spans of a life narrative, such as work and relationship factors; this study implements some of these life factors, particularly developmental categories such as familial memories and school memories in order to solicit more earlier adolescent memories. However, it does create an argument as to whether semantic autobiographical memories are being obtained, or episodic autobiographical memories because of the methodology of an online questionnaire relying on subjective self-awareness and online-literary expression. This area of examining the self in relation to memory is particularly important for understanding many aspects of complex human behaviour; including imagining and planning for the future, understanding the mental states of others, complex goal-directed behaviour, moral behaviour and self-regulation (Prebble et al, 2013). The study proposed is able to investigate the primary perceptions of the observer and to investigate the self-awareness function of the participant to their own autobiographical memories. Furthermore it allows for the vast flexibility of manifestations of memories and the self through unrestricted, undirected qualitative literary expressions. It is hypothesized by the author, in accordance with Prebble et al (2013) hypothesis that these literary expressions of past memories will place the individual centre-stage in these events and experiences; whether this is a function of maintaining self-esteem, or a form of healthy narcissism has yet to be empirically explored. Individuals tend to see themselves as actors in these events, and the emotional charge and the entire context surrounding an event is usually part of the memory, not just the perceived bare facts of the memory (Mastin, 2010). A useful thematic theme to test these research findings is the exploration of first person pronoun density (me, my and I), it is hypothesized that individuals will respond egocentrically, and place themselves at the centre of the memory in their qualitative literary responses.

Hypothesis: Key points

1) The research suggests that the memories will revolve around themselves, with the individual at the centre of all memories perceived to be experienced. Therefore the language is likely to contain high pronoun density (I, me, my) of what the person believes to have happened to themselves.

2) It has been hypothesized by researchers that AM is primarily a function of goal-orientation; a function which allows the person to construct future goals based on previous experiences and events (Conway; 2005; Williams, Conway and Cohen, 2008; Conway and Jobson, 2012). Memories expressed through self-reporting should therefore reflect aspirations, with high significance (5-7) in the point system of the categorical memories in regards to the column of career aspirations.

3) The life script of an individual has been identified by researchers as bias towards the positive events that occur; typically in young adulthood (Rubin, Bernsten& Hutson, 2009; Mastin, 2010). Therefore the descriptions of memories will likely focus on themselves, and discuss memories that reflect the individual in a good light.

Methodology

Participants

A random sampling/ opportunity methodology was used for the purposes of data collection for this study. The justification for this method of sampling is that it allows for greater scope of demographics of different variances of age and gender. The study aimed to attract those from different demographics of age and gender. A limitation of the study was that it did not include data questions of ethnicity identification thus no conclusions can be applied to a particular ethnic group.A total of 45 participants were recruited for the purposes of the study; this is a modest amount, higher quantities may have been achieved with less open ended qualitative questions which relied on self-disclosure of the participants own level of detail. This may have put perspective participants off from completing due to the open ended memory retrieval, and personal aspect of disclosing personal details of oneself, despite anonymity. The drop-out rate for the data collection came to 28%, so 33 participants overall fully completed the questionnaire items. The drop-out rate may be explained by the use of opportunity sampling of social media sites such as Facebook where very little controls or prompts can be issued to the participant; alongside the time commitment of the qualitative component with open ended questions (Coolican, 2014; Mertens, 2014). There was a good balance between the two genders, with 53% of participant's male, and 47% female participants (M= 1.48, SD= 0.51). In terms of the age range of the participants, 47 % of participants were between the ages of 18-30; 15% 30-40; 23% 40-50; 13 % 50-60 and 8 % over the age of 60 (M= 2.28, SD= 1.34). The findings are therefore quite bias towards the age group of those below the age of 30, developmental conclusions are therefore improper to apply to the older population who were largely absent from participation of the study; perhaps due to using social media for data collection, which is not the preferred method of conducting studies on the elderly i.e. lack of internet access in rural areas (Wright, 2005).

Materials

The materials that were used for the purposes of our investigation were:

The informed consent sheet/information sheet (Appendix 2) this explained to the participant their right to withdraw and results confidentiality, outlining the basic procedures of our investigation. The informed consent form fully complied with the BPS (2009) code of conduct and met the ethical guidelines listed within the manual; the study was approved by Dr. Paul Richardson, Chair of the Ethics Committee at Sheffield Hallam University (Appendix 2: Tutor agreement sheet). The participant/information sheet was also included at the start of the questionnaire before proceeding with the survey (Appendix 3) this outlined the description of the study and what the author is investigating. A debriefing was supplied at the end of the survey, and explained the significance of the study (Appendix 4). The study proposal was constructed in the proforma A (Appendix 1) and then ethically approved by the University in the proforma B (Appendix 2) which outlined the methodology and means of data collection. The final material used was of course the questionnaire itself, which was constructed by the author, a mixed methods questionnaire (Appendix 6) consisting of a 7-point scale measurement of importance to future thinking/future decision making and qualitative elements of self-reporting on memories involving family, school and various other categorical memories based on the typical environment of an individual. This was then analysed using thematic analysis with the assistance of the qualitative programme NVivo 10, which assisted with creating a transcription of the data gathered (Appendix 7: Qualitative responses).

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Details

Title
The prevalence and impact of autobiographical memories through thematic categorical classification: their impact on self-identity and self-expression
Subtitle
Thematic Analysis
College
Sheffield Hallam University
Course
MSc Psychology
Grade
Merit
Author
Year
2015
Pages
71
Catalog Number
V337634
ISBN (eBook)
9783668273030
ISBN (Book)
9783668273047
File size
865 KB
Language
English
Notes
A level 7 dissertation conducted at Sheffield Hallam University. Masters level.
Tags
autobiographical, memories, Masters, Psychology, Level 7, GBC, thematic analysis, dissertation
Quote paper
Alexander Syder (Author), 2015, The prevalence and impact of autobiographical memories through thematic categorical classification: their impact on self-identity and self-expression, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/337634

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