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  • bumarsh


Updated: Jul 1, 2020

In Dr. Katherine Nelson’s 1993 article, The psychological and social origins of autobiographical memory, she introduced me to language's role in the development of autobiographical memory, a memory system partly comprised of events that become ornaments of one's self-concept.

Once children develop enough linguistic skill to be verbally annoying, parents push them in front of grandma (or complete strangers) and engage in a verbal tug-of-war to extract from the child every detail concerning a trip to the zoo. Parents hurl a barrage of penetrating questions: “what happened next, Noah?”, “Tell grandma, Noah!”, and "Tell everyone your favorite animal, Noah! Explain why it is superior to all other creatures." This interaction is all carried out in an unnecessarily high or low volume depending on the sensibilities of the parent and child. Some kids are born snitches, divulging every detail of the funtastic day with minimal probing. Others are mental fortresses who are impervious to parents’ endearing desire to share their child’s joy with others. “I will live toy-less and seated in a dusty corner, before I talk,” is this child’s mentality. On a more serious note, this dance is not only about episodic details and immature impressions, but also a lesson on which experiences are autobiographically worthy and how those experiences should be formatted for sharing. Also, the interaction allows for the process of reinstatement wherein an experience is brought back into conscious awareness, perhaps marked as important to preserve, and hopefully made resistant to the eroding effects of time. In short, the parent sets the stage for the child’s oral tradition about what it is like to be them.

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