What is the Reminiscence Bump?

alex atkins bookshelf cultureIn the field of psychology, the reminiscence bump is the tendency for older adults to have more memories of events that occurred during adolescence and early adulthood (from 10 to 30). Studies show that autobiographical memories are not consistent through time. When autobiographical memories are plotted on a graph (known as a Life Span Retrieval Curve), there are three distinct segments: from birth to the age of 5 there are few memories (childhood amnesia), from 10 to 30 years there are the most memories (the reminiscence bump), and from 30 to 50 is a period of forgetting from the reminiscence bump to the present time (the emergence of senior moments).

The reminiscence bump explains why people’s favorite books, songs, records, and movies come from this transformative period of their lives. Psychologist Steve Janssen and his colleagues at the University of Amsterdam conducted a fascinating survey in 2006. They asked 1,500 adults (average age of 36) to rate their favorite record albums. The participants overwhelmingly chose albums that they loved when they were between 16 and 21 years old. These were the albums and songs that they connected to specific emotional or significant events during their lives. Janssen summarizes the findings: “The distribution of favorite books had the largest recency effect (remembering the most recent items best) and the distribution of favorite records had the largest reminiscence bump. We can explain these results by the difference in rehearsal. Books are read two or three times, movies are watched more frequently, whereas records are listened to numerous times. The results suggest that differential encoding initially causes the reminiscence bump and that re-sampling increases the bump further.” So there.

So why does this reminiscence bump exist? Researchers offer four possible explanations:

The Cognitive Account: Memories are remembered best because they occur during periods of rapid change followed by periods of stability. The memories of novel events, that occurs during rapid change, are better encoded during the period of stability.

Narrative/Identity Account: More memories occur during adolescence and early adulthood because the is when a sense of identity occurs. Identity formation is an effective motivation for the coding of memories.

Cognitive Abilities Account: Because cognitive capacities are at their peak during the ages of 10 to 30, they lead to more frequent and better coding of memories.

Life Script Account: The memories during early adulthood, the point at which a person makes important decisions that directly impact their identity and life script (eg, first job, first car, marriage, birth of a baby, first house, etc.), are more significantly coded and organized in memory.

So if you want to create a virtual time machine, the next time you are having a conversation, ask the other person, “So, what’s your favorite song?” Then, enjoy the journey…

Read related posts: The Oscar Bump
The Poem I Turn To
The Experiences That Live in Us
The Memory of the World

For further reading: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053810014001792

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