The role of temporal landmarks in autobiographical memory processes

Psychol Bull. 1998 Nov;124(3):423-42. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.124.3.423.


The prevalence of temporal landmarks has been revealed in a wide range of tasks associated with autobiographical memory, such as recall and dating of personal events. The author examined 3 types of events that have usually been considered landmarks: flashbulb memories, 1st experiences, and reference points in personal histories. The differences between landmark events and nonlandmark events are considered, and evidence is presented showing the effect of these landmarks on memory tasks. It is suggested that the effect of temporal landmarks on these tasks is twofold: (a) performance on the tasks is intricately linked with how our autobiographical memory system is structured, and temporal landmarks may play a critical role in this organization; and (b) landmarks may be actively and spontaneously used by individuals as cues when performing recall and dating tasks (the cuing hypothesis). Both of these factors serve to systematically bias performance, leading to robust phenomena such as calendar effects and reminiscence peaks in recall and improvements in accuracy in dating.

MeSH terms

  • Autobiographies as Topic*
  • Humans
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Mental Processes / physiology*
  • Reaction Time
  • Time Factors