Remembering Being Me: The Self Continuity Function of Autobiographical Memory in Younger and Older Adults
S elf continuity requires knowing and experiencing that we are, in a funda-mental way, the same person over time. Experientially it seems obvious. I am, of course, me. Who else would I suddenly be? But how do we actually know and feel that we are the same person that we were yesterday or a decade ago? What psychological processes are at work to maintain this continuity? One crucial process is autobiographical memory: I remember being me. A central function of autobiographical memory is to help individuals maintain self continuity (Bluck, 2003; Pillemer, 1992). Simenon (1952) reflects this in his narrative:
This character in Simenon’s novel reflects on a child’s self continuity. It is memory that bridges the moment when his mother tucked him into bed and the moment he is living through now. It is autobiographical memory (i.e., memory for the experiences of one’s own life) that brings the past forward in time, allows us to be the self that we have always been. Well, not quite. A person could, without remembering anything from his or her past, be the same person over time. Memory does not actually create the objective continuity in one’s life. For example, a newt is born and remains the same newt over a lifetime with very little memory capacity and no nostalgic reflection on earlier days. This chapter, however, is not about self continuity in the sense
of being the same person over time (nor is it about newts). It is about the subjective human capacity of knowing and feeling that one is the same person over time. One function of autobiographical memory is that it allows people to experience their own self continuity (e.g., Cohen, 1998; Neisser, 1978).