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are memory content (Gigerenzer, 1997; Linton, 1986), and function (Neisser, 1978). Addressing the contents of memory is clearly an im- portant area for future research and theory building. Our current work, however, grounded in an ecological approach (Graumann, 1986; Neisser, 1986), investigates the functions of AM. We begin by exploring the utility of the functional approach and then present a re- view of three broad functions of AM. Though this literature is rich theoretically, not much empirical work exists. Thus the goal of our study was to operationalize the theorized functions of AM. First, findings from the use of a new questionnaire, the TALE (Thinking About Life Experiences), are presented and discussed.
WHY TAKE A FUNCTIONAL APPROACH?
Function can have (at least) two meanings, connoting either use or adaptivity (i.e., adaptive versus maladaptive). These two meanings are related, but for now we take the simpler definition, that is, what do individuals use the memories of their life for? A later development in any program of research on function would be the identification of adaptive and maladaptive ways in which memory is employed in everyday life. In the current work, we do not explicitly explore adaptivity, but focus on function in terms of individuals’ self–reported uses of AM.
Various researchers have described the benefits of a functional ap- proach to memory (e.g., Baddeley, 1987; Bruce, 1989; Neisser, 1978). The primary concern is not how well humans remember their per- sonal past (though those features often play some role), but why hu- mans remember both mundane and significant life events, often over long periods of time. Examining function provides a different and po- tentially complementary view of the remembering individual: the or- ganism is not simply an information processor (emphasis is on memory capacity and veridicality) but rather an organism processing information in ecological context (emphasis is on memory utility).
THREE THEORETICAL FUNCTIONS OF AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL MEMORY
What functions does it serve for people to remember, reflect on, and share the experiences of their lives? While different researchers have