Linking Detail to Temporal Structure in Naturalistic-Event Recall

Psychol Sci. 2020 Dec;31(12):1557-1572. doi: 10.1177/0956797620958651. Epub 2020 Nov 23.


Decades of memory research demonstrate the importance of temporal organization in recall dynamics, using laboratory stimuli (i.e., word lists) at seconds- to minutes-long delays. Little is known, however, about such organization in recall of richer and more remote real-world experiences, in which the focus is usually on memory content without reference to event order. Here, 119 younger and older adults freely recalled extended real-world experiences, for which the encoding sequence was controlled, after 2 days or 1 week. We paired analytical tools from the list-learning and autobiographical memory literatures to measure spontaneous contextual dynamics and details in these recall narratives. Recall dynamics were organized by temporal context (contiguity and forward asymmetry), and organization was reduced in older age, despite similar serial position effects and recall initiation across age groups. Across participants, organization was positively associated with richness of episodic detail, providing evidence for a link between reexperiencing past events and reinstating their spatiotemporal context.

Keywords: aging; autobiographical memory; episodic memory; spatial context; temporal context.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging
  • Cognition
  • Humans
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Mental Recall*
  • Narration

Grants and funding