The Contributions of Autobiographical Memory to the Content and Continuity of Identity: A Social-Cognitive Neuroscience Approach
I t has long been thought that accessing, remembering, and reflecting on per-sonal memories are key to forming a coherent sense of identity1 and personal continuity (e.g., Locke, 1694/1970). As such, autobiographical memory (AM) makes a critical contribution to content and continuity of identity. The complexities of the relation between AM and identity, however, are far from understood. With the advent of social cognitive neuroscience, there has been an upsurge of research employing neuropsychological and neuroimaging methodologies. Neuropsychological approaches enable examination of the effects of AM loss on identity and have enabled examination of the contributions of different aspects of AM to identity. Typically, AM is broken down into personal semantic and personal episodic components, with the former consisting of facts about oneself and one’s life and the latter, recollective memories about temporally specific events. It is likely these components contribute differentially to identity. Recent neuroimaging studies have attempted to uncover the neural correlates of self-related processing, and interestingly, these results show striking overlap with those regions engaged by AM retrieval. It is likely that certain structures within this network are critical to the integration of AM and identity, as suggested by studies investigating specifically retrieval of personally significant memories. In this chapter we review theories and neuropsychological studies examining the contributions of personal
semantic and personal episodic memory to the content and continuity of identity and review relevant neuroimaging research.