Autobiographical Memory and sense of Self

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Despite a strong theoretical tradition linking autobiographical memory (AM) and sense of self, there are few coherent, testable models which exemplify how these constructs relate. Without any clear theoretical starting point, research efforts have been fragmented, with different fields of psychology operating in relative isolation, using different methodological approaches and a confusing array of terminology. This thesis attempted to bridge the gap between theory and research by proposing a novel framework that delineates sense of self along two dimensions: the subjective versus objective, and present versus temporally-extended aspects. The four resulting components are hypothesised to relate to AM in important, but very different, ways. Subjective sense of self provides a crucial precondition for episodic memory, which in turn is a prerequisite for phenomenological continuity. Episodic and semanticised AM are important for the formation and maintenance of mental representations of the self in present and across time. In the most comprehensive assessment of sense of self that has been attempted within a single patient group, the model was used to guide a series of investigations in healthy older adults and those with amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment (aMCI) and early-to-moderate Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). Using a combination of well-established and novel techniques, two questions were explored: which aspects of sense of self were affected in AD and aMCI, and how did the particular profile of AM deterioration affect each aspect of sense of self. The results revealed almost entirely preserved sense of self in aMCI, but an interesting patchwork of impairments in AD. Present-moment self awareness and beliefs about core continuity across time were retained, but deficits were revealed in self knowledge, as well as in the way the self was experienced and represented across time (semantic and phenomenological continuity). Relationships were revealed between these impairments and the AM deficits in this group, including not only deterioration in specific-event (episodic) memory, but also other “experiential” AM (extended/repeated memories). Overall, these investigations demonstrated the utility of this framework in guiding an expansive body of research. It is hoped it may continue to provide a useful guide for much needed future investigations.

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  • Sally Catherine Prebble

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