A tale of autobiographical memory development: New Zealand style
Autobiographical memories are for specific, personal past events that are of significance to an individual (Nelson, 1993). The social interaction model of autobiographical memory proposes that children begin learning about the relevance of personal memories through talking about the past with adults (Fivush, 1991). The current study investigated relations over time between maternal reminiscing style and children's own developing memory style, both with and independently of their mothers, from when the children were 19 months old. Relations between attachment quality and maternal and child conversational variables were also examined. Fifty-eight mother-child dyads discussed unique past events when the children were 19, 25, 32, and 40 months old. In addition, children participated in experimenter-child interviews about unique past events when they were 25, 32, and 40 months old. Children's language skills were measured at each timepoint. The mother child attachment relationship was measured at the 19-month timepoint. The present research demonstrated that the developmental progression to children's independent verbal memory actually begins with children's early interest in participating in the conversations and maternal reminiscing style, which together elicit children's later shared memory elaborations. Subsequently, children's shared memory elaborations and maternal reminiscing style both contribute to children's later independent memory at approximate I y 3-1/2 years of age. The present results isolated children's early interest in reminiscing as a crucial factor in initiating the social aspect of autobiographical memory. In contrast, to previous research, the current study did not find support for a simple socialisation path from mother to child (e.g. Reese et al., 1993), but rather demonstrated that bidirectional influences are present from the onset of mother-child conversations about the past. The current study also examined the contribution that attachment status may have to the development of joint reminiscing. Securely attached children demonstrated a greater willingness to participate in these conversations about the past and subsequently produced more unique memory information in comparison to insecurely attached children. In conjunction with the first set of results, these findings indicate that attachment security may be important in the foundation of mother-child joint reminiscing. Finally, contingency analyses showed that mothers from securely attached dyads provided more memory question elaborations in response to children's indications that they were willing to participate in these conversations, in contrast to mothers from insecurely attached dyads who provided more repetitions. The most appropriate response to these placeholders would be to continue to provide information to assist children in co-constructing the event with the mother, rather than continuing to provide information that the child has already received. Overall, mothers from securely attached dyads appear to be structuring past event talk with their children in a manner that may be labelled as "sensitive" for this task. In summary, the current study addressed the idea that autobiographical memory development is essentially a collaborative process with children significantly contributing to the development of their own reminiscing style from its inception. A secure attachment relationship may also enable the progress of the development of joint reminiscing.
Advisor: Reese, Elaine
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Psychology
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Thesis