Researchers at University of New Hampshire (UNH) have found that when older adults were asked to tell their life stories, they overwhelmingly highlighted the central influence of life transitions in their memories.
Many of these transitions, such as marriage and having children, occurred early in life.
When people look back over their lives and recount their most important memories, most divide their life stories into chapters defined by important moments that are universal for many.
“Like a physical move, attending college, a first job, marriage, military experience and having children,” explained Kristina Steiner, a doctoral student in psychology at UNH.
Researchers spoke with 34 members aged 59-92 of an active retirement community.
Participants were asked to tell their life stories in 30 minutes.
One week later, participants divided their life stories into self-defined ‘chapters’.
Researchers found a pronounced ‘reminiscence bump’ between ages 17 and 24, when many people defined chapters of their life story beginning and ending.
A reminiscence bump is a period of time between the ages of 15 and 30 when many memories, positive and negative, expected and unexpected, are recalled.
“Our life narratives are our identity. By looking at life narratives, researchers can predict levels of well-being and psychological adjustment in adults,” added Steiner.
The research was published in the journal Memory.