Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
  • Get access
    Check if you have access via personal or institutional login
  • Cited by 9
  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: November 2012

14 - Evolutionary origins of autobiographical memory: a retrieval hypothesis

Summary

The evolutionary origins of autobiographical memory (AM) are a challenge for evolutionary cognitive science. The search for a theory is complicated by theoretical biases regarding the special nature of human memory, which seems so different from its primate predecessors. Why is it so different? How did human memory evolve, and where does AM fit into an evolutionary theory of human memory?

This chapter focuses on the evolution of one key feature of human memory: voluntary retrieval, or recall. Human memory is special in many of its superficial manifestations, but, from an evolutionary standpoint, its major distinguishing feature is the ease with which its contents are made accessible to consciousness. The evolution of voluntary conscious access to memory may account for many, if not most, of the distinguishing characteristics of human memory. The unique human capacity for accessing our memory banks provided a platform on which the spiraling co-evolution of human cognition and culture could be constructed.

The distinctiveness of human memory

Human memory researchers use a distinctive vocabulary to describe the memory systems of the human brain. It does not correspond to that used to describe animal memory. For example, in the extensive review edited by Kendrick, Rilling, and Denny (1986), no animal equivalents of semantic or episodic memory were mentioned, and the focus was on a monolithic concept of “long-term memory,” as if no further distinctions were needed. Does this difference in terminology imply that the distant ancestors of modern humans must have evolved one or more radically new long-term memory systems?

References
Allman, J. M.Hakeem, A.Erwin, J. M.Nimchinsky, E.Hof, P. 2001 Anterior cingulate cortex: the evolution of an interface between emotion and cognitionAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences 935 107
Allman, J. M.Hakeem, A.Watson, K. 2002 Two phylogenetic specializations in the human brainNeuroscientist 8 335
Bartlett, F. 1932 RememberingCambridge University Press
Bauer, P. 2006 Remembering the times of our lives: memory in infancy and beyondMahwah, NJLawrence Erlbaum Associates
Berntsen, D. 2009 Involuntary autobiographical memories: an introduction to the unbidden pastNew YorkCambridge University Press
Butti, C.Sherwood, C. C.Hakeem, A. Y.Allman, J. M.Hof, P. R 2009 Total number and volume of Von Economo neurons in the cerebral cortex of cetaceansJournal of Comparative Neurology 515 243
Conway, M. 2005 Memory and the selfJournal of Memory and Language 53 624
Deacon, T. 1997 The symbolic species: the co-evolution of language and the brainNew YorkNorton
Dehaene, S. 2007 Cultural recycling of cortical mapsNeuron 56 384
Donald, M. 1991 Origins of the modern mind: three stages in the evolution of culture and cognitionCambridge, MAHarvard University Press
Donald, M. 1993 Précis of with multiple review and author’s responseBehavioral and Brain Sciences 16 737
Donald, M. 1998 Mimesis and the executive suite: missing links in language evolutionHurford, J. R.Studdert-Kennedy, M.Knight, C.Approaches to the evolution of language: social and cognitive bases44Cambridge University Press
Donald, M. 1998 Hominin enculturation and cognitive evolutionRenfrew, C.Scarre, C.Cognition and material culture: the archaeology of symbolic storage7University of Cambridge
Donald, M. 1999 Preconditions for the evolution of protolanguagesCorballis, M. C.Lea, I.The descent of mind355Oxford University Press
Donald, M. 2001 A mind so rare: the evolution of human consciousnessNew YorkW. W. Norton
Donald, M. 2005 Imitation and mimesisHurley, S.Chater, N.Perspectives on imitation: from neuroscience to social science. Imitation, human development, and culture282Cambridge, MAMIT Press
Donald, M. 2005 The application of ideomotor theory to imitationHurley, S.Chater, N.Perspectives on imitation: from neuroscience to social science. Mechanisms of imitation and imitation in animals217Cambridge, MAMIT Press
Donald, M. 2012 Mimesis theory re-examined, 20 years after the factHatfield, G.Pittman, H.The evolution of mind, brain and culturePhiladelphiaUniversity of Pennsylvania Press
Fivush, R.Nelson, K. 2004 Culture and language in the emergence of autobiographical memoryPsychological Science 15 573
Griffiths, D.Dickinson, A.Clayton, N. 1999 Episodic memory: what can animals remember about their pastTrends in Cognitive Sciences 3 74
Hutchins, E. 1995 Cognition in the wildCambridge, MAMIT Press
Keller, H. 1902 The story of my lifeNew YorkGrosset & Dunlap
Kendrick, D. F.Rilling, M. E.Denny, M. R. 1986 Theories of animal memoryNew YorkLawrence Erlbaum Associates
Marcowitsch, H. J.Welzer, H. 2005 The development of autobiographical memoryEmmans, D.HovePsychology Press
McPherron, S. P.Alemseged, Z.Marean, C. W.Wynn, J. G.Reed, D.Geraads, D.Bobe, R.Béarat, H. A. 2010 Evidence for stone-tool-assisted consumption of animal tissues before 3.39 million years ago at Dikika, EthiopiaNature 466 857
Morris, R. G. L. 2001 Episodic-like memory in animalsPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences 356 1453
Nelson, K. 1993 The psychological and social origins of autobiographical memoryPsychological Science 4 7
Nelson, K. 1996 Language in cognitive development: the emergence of the mediated mindNew YorkCambridge University Press
Nelson, K. 2007 Young minds in social worlds: experience, meaning, and memoryCambridge, MAHarvard University Press
Nottebohm, F. 1994 The song circuits of the avian brain as a model system in which to study vocal learning, communication and manipulation. Discussions in Neurosciences 10 72
Passingham, R. 1982 The human primateNew YorkFreeman
Rubin, D. C. 1995 Memory in oral traditions: the cognitive psychology of epic, ballads, and counting-out rhymesNew YorkOxford University Press
Schaller, S. 1991 A man without wordsNew YorkSummit Books
Sherry, D. F.Schacter, D. L. 1987 The evolution of multiple memory systemsPsychological Review 94 439
Tomasello, M. 1999 The cultural origins of human cognitionCambridge, MAHarvard University Press
Tomasello, M. 2008 Origins of human communicationCambridge, MAMIT Press
Toth, N.Schick, K.Savage-Rumbaugh, E. S.Sevcik, R.Rumbaugh, D. 1993 Pan the tool-makerJournal of Archaeological Science 20 81
Toth, N.Schick, K.Semaw, S. 2003 A comparative study of the toolmaking skills of , , and Toth, N.Schick, K.The Oldowan: case studies of the earliest Stone AgeBloomington, INCraft Press
Tulving, E. 1985 How many memory systems are thereAmerican Psychologist 40 385
Tulving, E. 2002 Episodic memory: from mind to brainAnnual Review of Psychology 53 1