Collective events and individual affect shape autobiographical memory.

Publication date: Jul 18, 2023

How do collective events shape how we remember our lives? We leveraged advances in natural language processing as well as a rich, longitudinal assessment of 1,000 Americans throughout 2020 to examine how memory is influenced by two prominent factors: surprise and emotion. Autobiographical memory for 2020 displayed a unique signature: There was a substantial bump in March, aligning with pandemic onset and lockdowns, consistent across three memory collections 1 y apart. We further investigated how emotion, using both immediate and retrieved measures, predicted the amount and content of autobiographical memory: Negative affect increased recall across all measures, whereas its more clinical indices, depression and posttraumatic stress disorder, selectively increased nonepisodic recall. Finally, in a separate cohort, we found pandemic news to be better remembered, surprising, and negative, while lockdowns compressed remembered time. Our work connects laboratory findings to the real world and delineates the effects of acute versus clinical signatures of negative emotion on memory.

Concepts Keywords
Americans autobiographical memory
Autobiographical collective memory
Laboratory emotion
Posttraumatic Emotions
Memory, Episodic
Mental Recall
Natural Language Processing
temporal memory


Type Source Name
disease MESH posttraumatic stress disorder
drug DRUGBANK Tropicamide
disease VO time

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