Our memory wears rose-colored glasses

May 16, 2006

A study published in the latest issue of Journal of Personality finds that when people feel an event has had a large impact on them, e.g. it contributed to their life story or sense of identity, they downplay the negative and emphasize the positive. When asked to reflect on a negative memory, participants reported less negative emotion (like sadness) and more positive emotion (like pride) compared to how they recalled feeling at the time. The authors find that throughout life people strive to maintain a positive and coherent sense of self in the face of a wide range of adversity and opportunity.

The events and experiences related in the study were wide-ranging. Negative events included losing possessions, failing a course, physical assault, and death of a loved one. Positive events included saving money for a purchase and falling in love. Regardless of how outsiders may rate the events, self-defining memories are significant to the person and are emotionally complex. The authors explain, "When people report that an event has had a big impact on them, it probably indicates that they have thought a lot about the event, tried to make sense of the event, and attempted to fit that life event into their own personal history." To understand the event, individuals may examine it in terms of how it contributes positively to their lives while downplaying the negative.
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This article is published in the June issue of the Journal of Personality. Media wishing to receive a PDF of this article please contact journalnews@bos.blackwellpublishing.net Journal of Personality publishes scientific investigations in the field of personality. It focuses particularly on personality and behavior dynamics, personality development, and individual differences in the cognitive, affective, and interpersonal domains.

Wendy-Jo Wood is a clinical psychologist (candidate register) working at the Nova Scotia Hospital in Halifax. She works with clients who are challenged with both a developmental disability and a mental illness. This research was part of Dr. Wood's doctoral dissertation. Dr. Wood is available for media questions and interviews.

Blackwell Publishing is the world's leading society publisher, partnering with 665 academic and professional societies. Blackwell publishes over 800 journals and, to date, has published more than 6,000 books, across a wide range of academic, medical, and professional subjects.

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