Psychology, Department of


First Advisor

Robert F. Belli

Date of this Version



A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Psychology, Under the Supervision of Professor Robert F. Belli. Lincoln, Nebraska: November, 2012

Copyright (c) 2012 Justin T. Coleman


The reminiscence effect, in which people aged 40 and over remember more autobiographical memories from between ages 10 to 30 than from adjacent periods, producing a “bump” in lifespan distributions, is a highly robust effect. When it was discovered to occur for highly positive emotional memories, but not negative ones, the cultural life script account of reminiscence was proposed. The cultural life script account asserts that individuals possess scripts for important events in the normative life that structure autobiographical recall. The reminiscence effect is explained by the fact that in life scripts, positive events have highly prescribed timings and cluster between ages 10 and 30, while negative events, which do not have prescribed timings, are more evenly distributed across the lifespan. The life story account outlines additional properties of bump memories. The life story account attributes reminiscence to the differential recall of life story events, i.e., events that provide coherence to one’s life story. Four studies are reported testing these accounts. Chapter 2 reports a test of the life script with African Americans. Research suggests that life scripts are highly stable, varying little across cultures. The findings indicate that, overall, the properties of the life script were replicated. However, minor cross-cultural differences similar to those observed in prior research were exacerbated with a minority sample. In Chapter 3, the effect of minority status on the recall of emotionally negative memories is examined. Contrary to expectations, the findings failed to contradict the predictions of either account of reminiscence. In Chapter 4, the typicality effect is tested with life scripts in an attempt to present an additional class of evidence for their existence. Finally, in Chapter 5, the life story account is tested. The findings support the life story account by showing that the bump occurs for life story, but not non-life story, events. These studies add to our understanding of the cultural life script and life story accounts and the reminiscence effect in autobiographical memory.

Adviser: Robert F. Belli