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The happiest and the saddest autobiographical memories and aging


The present study investigated autobiographical memories of younger, middle-aged and older adults for the events that made them the happiest and the saddest in their lives. Participants generated these memory types and provided ratings about how positive and how negative the memory makes them feel when they currently think about it, and the positivity of the emotional content of the memory. Participants provided the age at which the event happened and rated the importance and effectiveness of the event in who they have become presently, and their perceived control over the event. Results provided supporting evidence for the positivity effect, by showing that older adults felt more positive about their memories. Middle-aged adults’ ratings resembled older adults’ for the happiest and younger adults’ for the saddest memories. Two young independent raters rated all descriptions of older adults’ memories. Results showed that young raters’ positive emotion ratings were lower than older adults, for both the happiest and the saddest memories. This result indicated that older adults do not access less negatively emotional memories or describe the memories more positively, but they just evaluate these memories more positively. Results showed a reminiscence bump for the happiest but not for the saddest memories, supporting the predictions of the Life Script Account. Additionally, results provided partial and rather weak support for the Life Story Account in younger and middle-aged adults, but not in older adults. The results indicate that older adulthood may be characterized by a more positive evaluation of life experiences.

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  1. 1.

    Based on an alpha level of .05, we report marginally significant results as well. Research shows an increased tendency to report such results in articles in the last decade (for a discussion, see Pritschet et al. 2016). However, we interpret these marginally significant results cautiously in the discussion.

  2. 2.

    For the t-test comparisons in middle-aged adults, Levene’s Test was significant, and thus the values with non-equal variance assumption are reported.


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We would like to thank Ebru Arslanhan, Pelin Alpay, Hümeyra Minel Aykut, Zeynep Karataş, Hande Deveci, Şeyma Hilal Kaanoğlu, Ecem Akgül and Melike Alyurt for their help with data collection and data entry. We also thank Aylin Topçu and Berk Erdinç for their contributions to data collection.

Datasets are available from the first author upon request.

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Correspondence to Simay Ikier.

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The authors state that there are no potential conflicts of interest about the manuscript. The study complies with the ethical standards of research involving human participants and informed consent was obtained from all participants. The study does not have financial support.

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All procedures performed in this study involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the ethics board of the previous institution of the first author (Yeditepe University Humanities and Social Research Ethics Review Board, Document Reference Number: 75078252–9000-0045/289) and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Ikier, S., Duman, Ç. The happiest and the saddest autobiographical memories and aging. Curr Psychol (2020).

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  • Autobiographical memory
  • Aging
  • Positivity effect
  • Life script account
  • Life story account