Memories, Families, Cultures. Family Factors and Earliest Memories in a Cultural Perspective
Three within-culture studies aimed to investigate aspects of earliest memories in Italians (N = 90, Study 1) and European New Zealand young adults (NS = 80, Study 2A and 120, Study 2B); and European NZ children (N = 26, Study 3). The framework is social-interactionist, with an emphasis on how family factors in a given culture relate to early autobiographical memories. Does growing up in extended families, as in Italian culture, matter for the development of autobiographical memory? What happens when, conversely, divorce changes the family structure? How does the high rate of separation and divorce in New Zealand impact children’s linguistic environment and subsequent memories? Do separated mothers talk differently with their children than mothers in families with two biological parents? Associated with these questions, the Italian culture, with its multi-generational family structure, reports a more extended family arrangement, defined by number of extra adults besides parents in the household, in comparison with other European counterparts. In contrast, New Zealand’s high rate of divorce produces a range of post-divorce family structures (e.g. sole-parent and stepfamilies). Participants’ earliest memories in all three studies were assessed for age, density (how far apart the memories were); and for different aspects of content: social orientation (Study 2A), narrative coherence (Study 2) and emotional valence of the recall (Study 3). Questionnaires were designed to investigate for extended family structure variables (e.g. the number of adults in the participant’s household, whether and when it changed, etc.), the parental separation or divorce’s timing (Studies 2 and 3), joint-custody (Study 3), and other sociodemographic indicators (e.g. gender, birth order, number of siblings), drawing from Mullen (1994). In Study 3, mothers from separated and non-separated families reminisced about the past with their primary school-aged children. The style and length of these conversations were analysed as a function of family structure. Studies 2B and 3 further investigated stress and painful divorce-related feelings and children’s behavioural and emotional functioning as additional variables involved in children’s adjustment after divorce (e.g. Amato 2010). Young adults from the two cultures (Italian and European NZ) reported memories that were earlier, denser (Study 1) and more socially oriented (Study 2A) when growing up with more adults besides parents than in sole-parent and/or nuclear families. NZ young adults had earlier memories when parents separated early, which related to having extended family ties and a higher coherence of memory narratives from early childhood (Study 2B). In Study 3, mother-child dyads from separated families reminisced less than their counterparts, although children from separated families had an earlier amnesia offset than their counterparts. In this regard, other potential mechanisms, such as the role of parental separation as a stressful event benchmarking the children’s past, has been discussed Within the group from separated parents, family variables such as the divorce occurring earlier in the child’s life (Studies 2 and 3) and more extra adults in the family (Study 3) correlated with lower well-being overall. In these two last conditions, children nonetheless showed better recall. A new model of autobiographical memory development is proposed to account for the role of family factors in further investigations of the childhood amnesia phenomenon in a social-interactive, cultural perspective. Moreover, findings open a new area of research on divorce-related factors in children’s and adolescents’ memory development.
Advisor: Reese, Elaine
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Psychology
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Childhood amnesia; sociodemographic factors; sociocultural theory; autobiographical memory; reminiscing; family structures
Research Type: Thesis