The survey of autobiographical memory (SAM): a novel measure of trait mnemonics in everyday life

Cortex. 2013 Jun;49(6):1526-40. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2012.08.023. Epub 2012 Sep 12.


Compared to the abundance of laboratory-based memory tasks, few measures exist to assess self-reported memory function. This need is particularly important for naturalistic mnemonic capacities, such as autobiographical memory (recall of events and facts from one's past), because it is difficult to reliably assess in the laboratory. Furthermore, naturalistic mnemonic capacities may show stable individual differences that evade the constraints of laboratory testing. The Survey of Autobiographical Memory (SAM) was designed to assess such trait mnemonics, or the dimensional characterization of self-reported mnemonic characteristics. The SAM comprises items assessing self-reported episodic autobiographical, semantic, and spatial memory, as well as future prospection. In a large sample of healthy young adults, the latent dimensional structure of the SAM was characterized with multiple correspondence analysis (MCA). This analysis revealed dimensions corresponding to general mnemonic abilities (i.e., good vs poor memory across subtypes), spatial memory, and future prospection. While episodic and semantic items did not separate in this data-driven analysis, these categories did show expected dissociations in relation to depression history and to laboratory-based measures of recollection. Remote spatial memory as assessed by the SAM showed the expected advantage for males over females. Spatial memory was also related to autobiographical memory performance. Brief versions of the SAM are provided for efficient research applications. Individual differences in memory function are likely related to other health-related factors, including personality, psychopathology, dementia risk, brain structure and function, and genotype. In conjunction with laboratory or performance based assessments, the SAM can provide a useful measure of naturalistic self-report trait mnemonics for probing these relationships.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Discriminant Analysis
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Mental Recall
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult