Fall-off in reporting life events: effects of life change, desirability, and anticipation

Behav Med. Spring 1990;16(1):31-8. doi: 10.1080/08964289.1990.9934589.


The influence of event characteristics on recall was examined by directly comparing fall-off in reporting life events as a function of life change, desirability, and anticipation. We collected information from a sample of 1,669 blue-collar workers on stressful life events that occurred in a 1-year interval before the questionnaire was administered. The results indicated no fall-off in reporting events associated with marked life changes (ie, salient events). In contrast, significant fall-off was observed for events characterized by varying degrees of desirability and anticipation. Although ratings of desirability and saliency were not independent, saliency of life events emerged as the dimension most closely associated with accuracy of event reporting. Research on the reliability of measures of life events and the association between event characteristics and illness should consider the kinds of systematic reporting differences observed here.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Asbestosis / psychology*
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Lung Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Male
  • Memory*
  • Mental Recall*
  • Middle Aged
  • Personality Tests
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Set, Psychology*