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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: November 2012

1 - Introduction

Summary

The ability to remember personal events is at the heart of what defines an individual as a person with obligations, roles, and commitments in a given society. It enables us to draw lessons from our past and plan our personal future. It helps us to orientate and participate in complex social communities. Autobiographical memory is therefore crucial for a sense of identity, continuity, and direction in life.

In spite of this significance, concerted and systematic psychological research on autobiographical memory only began to emerge in the 1980s, roughly a hundred years after the publication of the first book launching experimental research on memory (Ebbinghaus, 1885/1964). Until then, experimental memory research had been focused on testing learning and memory for verbal material.

Research on autobiographical memory broke away from the existing field of memory research by introducing new methodological, theoretical, and philosophical challenges (e.g., Brewer, 1986; Crovitz and Schiffman, 1974; Neisser, 1982). For that reason, autobiographical memory researchers often had difficulty in getting their work published in existing psychology journals. Instead, edited books became an importantmedium for scientific exchange during the first decade.

The first edited book on autobiographical memory was published in the middle of the 1980s (Rubin, 1986). At this time, the autobiographical memory field was small and exotic.

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