Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences

Negative memories serve functions in both adaptive and maladaptive ways

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review

  • Ryan Burnell, University of Waikato, New Zealand
  • Anne Scharling Rasmussen
  • Maryanne Garry, University of Waikato, New Zealand
Autobiographical memories are said to serve at least three functions: they direct people's behaviour, inform their identity, and facilitate social bonding and communication. But much of the research on these three functions has not distinguished between memories that serve functions in adaptive ways from those that serve functions in maladaptive ways. Across two experiments, we asked subjects to provide either positive or negative memories. Then, to operationalise adaptive and maladaptive functions, we asked subjects to rate the extent to which those memories serve directive, self, and social functions in ways that "help" and in ways that "hurt". To investigate whether people believe the adaptive benefits of their memories outweigh any maladaptive effects, we also asked subjects how willing they would be to erase the memories if given the opportunity. We found that negative memories served functions in both helpful and hurtful ways, whereas positive memories were primarily helpful. Furthermore, the more helpful a memory was, the more reluctant subjects were to erase it. Conversely, the more hurtful a memory was, the more willing subjects were to erase it. These results suggest it is important to distinguish between adaptive and maladaptive functions when investigating the functions of autobiographical memory.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMemory
Volume28
Issue4
Pages (from-to)494-505
Number of pages12
ISSN0965-8211
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2020

    Research areas

  • Autobiographical memory, function, maladaptive, negative memory, posttraumatic growth

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