Autobiographical memory and sense of self

Psychol Bull. 2013 Jul;139(4):815-40. doi: 10.1037/a0030146. Epub 2012 Oct 1.


Despite a strong intuitive and theoretical tradition linking autobiographical memory and sense of self, there are few coherent, testable models that exemplify how these constructs relate. Without any clear theoretical starting point, research efforts have been fragmented, with many different fields of psychology operating in relative isolation, using different methodological approaches and a confusing array of self-related terminology. We attempt to bridge the widening gap between theory and research by proposing a novel framework for sense of self and memory. This simple model delineates sense of self along 2 dimensions: the subjective versus objective and the present versus temporally extended aspects of sense of self. The 4 resulting components of sense of self are argued to relate to autobiographical memory in important, but very different, ways. Subjective sense of self provides a crucial precondition for episodic memory, which in turn is a prerequisite for phenomenological continuity. Autobiographical memory, and particularly its semanticized forms, are important for the formation and maintenance of a mental representation of the objective self in the present moment and across time. This model does not represent a new theoretical direction for the study of sense of self and memory; to the contrary, it is deeply grounded in the theoretical work of the past few decades. Its novelty is that it translates this theoretical groundwork into a form that is readily accessible for researchers. We review evidence for our model and suggest ways that it may provide a roadmap for future research efforts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Consciousness / physiology*
  • Functional Neuroimaging
  • Humans
  • Memory Disorders / physiopathology
  • Memory Disorders / psychology
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Research Design
  • Self Concept*
  • Time Perception / physiology