The effect of selective discussion on young people's autobiographical memories
Young people frequently talk about memories of experienced events with their parents and peers. These conversations are selective and little is known about the fate of memories that are not talked about. Retrieval-induced forgetting (RIF; Anderson, Bjork, & Bjork, 1994) is an experimental paradigm that can be used as a proxy for selective conversations under controlled conditions. While some studies have been conducted with adults (see Storm et al., 2015 for review), the impact of selective discussion on young people’s recall of their autobiographical memories has not yet been investigated. This thesis, therefore, addresses a number of key gaps in the literature. In the first study, we investigated the impact of selective discussion on 8-9-year-old children’s (N = 65) recall of their autobiographical memories. Selective discussion produced RIF for children’s positive and negative memories. Selective discussion also produced RIF for children’s memory details; even when non-discussed memories were recalled, they were recalled in sparser detail. In addition, children who discussed a selection of their memories in more detail later forgot a greater proportion of their non-discussed memories. These findings are the first to demonstrate that selective discussion with children results in non-discussed memories being forgotten. Moreover, the findings indicate the importance of memory detail in RIF for autobiographical memories. In the second study, we investigated the short and long-term impact of selective discussion on 13-15-year-old adolescents’ (N = 58) recall of their autobiographical memories. After a short delay, selective discussion led to RIF for adolescents’ negative memories only; RIF did not occur for adolescents’ positive memories. After a long delay, RIF occurred for both positive and negative autobiographical memories. Given that Study 1 demonstrated that for children, RIF occurred for both positive and negative memories after a short delay, these findings with adolescents represent a novel developmental difference in RIF for autobiographical memories with regard to memory valence. In addition, they suggest that RIF for different kinds of stimuli may occur over different delay periods. In the third study, we expanded on the findings of Study 1, investigating the impact of selective discussion on specific kinds of autobiographical memory details for both children and adolescents (N = 123; combined sample from Study 1 and 2). RIF occurred for some memory details but did not occur for others. Moreover, the details of children’s, as compared to adolescents’, non-discussed autobiographical memories were more vulnerable to being forgotten following selective discussion. These findings again demonstrate a developmental difference in RIF for autobiographical memories and highlight the importance of investigating how selective discussion may impair non-discussed autobiographical memories even when they are recalled. Overall, our findings extend the field by establishing that selective discussion about young people’s everyday autobiographical memories results in non-discussed memories being forgotten. More specifically, we found developmental differences with regard to memory valence and detail that had previously been overlooked in developmental studies of RIF. Our findings add clarity about the specific types of memory detail that are vulnerable to being forgotten from non-discussed memories and highlight the necessity of investigating the long-term effects of selective discussion, even when RIF is not immediately evident.