Three things stand out about our memories of life experiences, so-called autobiographical memories. Two of them are pretty obvious. One, not so much.
First, we can’t remember what happened the day we were born or a lot of other stuff for years afterward. Second, we can recite what was for lunch yesterday better than what was on the menu 10 years ago. Third, the most vivid and lasting long-term memories accrue during the reminiscence bump.
The reminiscence bump? Huh? This blip in recollections occurs around the time of the high-school prom and college frat parties. We tend to have more memories of experiences in late adolescence and early adulthood than of any other period in our lives. Studies have identified this memory blip before—one of them goes back to 1879, and was conducted by the English polymath Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin.
The most recent studies have extended the original reminiscence bump research beyond just personal memories, which are the essence of what is meant by autobiographical memory. The new studies now ask what are the most personally meaningful books, records, movies and public events—and then try to determine what period of a person’s life they correspond to. Perhaps the most creative example of this line of research has just been published.
Researchers from three European and one U.S. university quizzed a group of more than 600 Dutch people on the Internet about their preferences for the five best soccer players of all time. A respondent was most likely to pick a top player as being at the midpoint of his career, probably playing at his best, when the survey taker was in adolescence (the statistical mode was 17 years old), a finding the researchers took as yet another confirmation of the reminiscence bump. The respondents, mostly male, were between the ages of 16 and 80, and picked Johan Crujiff, Pelé and Diego Maradona as the top three players.
The researchers determined that their findings may support some of the reasons for why a reminiscence bump exists in the first place. Our brains may form memories more easily in adolescence, and, during that period, we are also in the process of forming an adult identity.
This type of research raises endless possibilities. You might be able to think of a better topic than soccer or books. What other objects or events might exhibit a reminiscence bump? Maybe grist for future studies. Let us know in the comments section below.
(A hat tip to BPS Research Digest for this idea.)
Source: Wikimedia Commons