Autobiographical memory, self, and stress-related psychiatric disorders: which implications in cancer patients?

Neuropsychol Rev. 2013 Jun;23(2):157-68. doi: 10.1007/s11065-013-9233-6. Epub 2013 May 3.


Autobiographical memory refers to information and memories of personal life events, accumulated since childhood, which enable the construction of a feeling of identity and continuity. Autobiographical memory retrieval is a dynamic and reconstructive process, as mental representations change with the passage of time. This flexible aspect of memory is linked to one's changing self and aspirations over time, that evolve according to our personal status and environment. Hence, any breakdown in the continuity of life involves a distortion of memory. Such distortions can be observed in stress-related psychiatric disorders, such as major depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, where autobiographical memory retrieval is characterized by overgenerality (i.e., the tendency to recall generic memories rather than specific events in response to cue words). Such memory disorders can be observed at different degrees in cancer patients. We will report studies focusing on the above-mentioned psychiatric disorders and cancer, and will attempt to establish a relation with autobiographical memory disturbances. The better understanding of such memory deficits could permit new pathophysiological hypotheses to emerge. Recommendations for future research that will enhance understanding of the factors that contribute to autobiographical memory in cancer are suggested.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Memory Disorders / etiology*
  • Memory Disorders / psychology
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Mental Disorders / complications*
  • Neoplasms / complications*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*