Our autobiographical self depends on the differential recollection of our personal past, notably including memories of morally laden events. Whereas both emotion and temporal recency are well known to influence memory, very little is known about how we remember moral events, and in particular about the distribution in time of memories for events that were blameworthy or praiseworthy. To investigate this issue in detail, we collected a novel database of 758 confidential, autobiographical narratives for personal moral events from 100 well-characterized healthy adults. Negatively valenced moral memories were significantly more remote than positively valenced memories, both as measured by the valence of the cue word that evoked the memory as well as by the content of the memory itself. The effect was independent of chronological age, ethnicity, gender or personality, arguing for a general emotional bias in how we construct our moral autobiography.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Why indiscretions appear youthful.
Benedict Carey does a nice summary article on studies that show that people date their memories of moral failings about 10 years earlier, on average, than their memories of good deeds. Here is the abstract of the paper he reviews: