Peterson, C., Baker-Ward, L., & Grovenstein, T.N. (2016). Childhood remembered: Reports of both unique and repeated events. Memory, 24, 240-256. doi: 10.1080/09658211.2014.1001991

To explore the significance of repeated memories for individuals’ personal histories, we compared the characteristics of young adults’ unique and repeated memories of childhood experiences. Memory type (unique vs. repeated) was a within-participant variable. In Experiment 1, college-age participants generated as many early memories as possible in 4 minutes; in Experiment 2, another sample provided complete reports of five early memories in each condition. In both experiments, participants rated the vividness, biographical importance and personal meaning of each memory and labeled the accompanying emotion. In comparison to repeated memories, unique were more vivid and more likely to include negative emotion, regardless of the method of reporting. Most importantly, college students rated their memories for unique and repeated events as equivalently infused with personal meaning. Analysis of the content of the memories reported in Experiment 2 established that unique and repeated memories did not differ in word count or percentages of perceptual terms or words indicating positive affect, although unique memories contained a greater percentage of negative affect. Additional analyses of content provided evidence for differences in the functions served by unique and repeated memories. The results have implications for the study of autobiographical memory and for identifying overgeneral memories.