Date of Award

Spring 2010

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

David B Pillemer


Researchers have consistently found that older adults report a higher percentage of autobiographical memories for experiences that occurred between ages 15 and 30 compared to any other period of life. This reminiscence bump is evident for memories involving positive emotions but not for memories involving negative emotions. The life script hypothesis proposes that people share cultural knowledge for the types and timing of positive landmark events expected to occur over the life course and that this shared knowledge guides the retrieval of autobiographical memories. In a series of five studies, the valence (positive and negative) and expectedness (not surprising and surprising; expected and unexpected) dimensions of the life script account of the reminiscence bump were examined. In Study 1, college students reported positive and negative memories between the ages of 8 and 18 (corresponding to the ages where positive and negative memory distributions begin to diverge) that were either surprising or not surprising. In Studies 2 and 3, college students predicted and older adult recalled positive and negative memories from across the life span that were either surprising or not surprising. Finally, in Studies 4 and 5, college students predicted and older adults recalled memories that were highly expected and highly unexpected and rated these memories on positive and negative valence only after providing their descriptions. Inconsistent with life script predictions, memories cued by prompts for surprising and unexpected events demonstrated classic reminiscence bumps. The results show that positive memories are overrepresented between ages 15 and 30, but that a recently activated life script is not necessary to guide the memory search to this age period.