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Memory. 1998 Jul;6(4):383-406.

The structure of autobiographical memory and the event history calendar: potential improvements in the quality of retrospective reports in surveys.

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Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor 48106-1248, USA.


This paper reviews the literature on the structure of autobiographical memory and points to the use of event history calendars as a survey methodology that reflects this structure. Autobiographical memory structure is characterised as an hierarchical network that includes extended, summarised, and specific events, and that permits retrieval of past events through multiple pathways that work top-down in the hierarchy, sequentially within life themes that unify extended events, and in parallel across life themes that involve contemporaneous and sequential events. Traditional survey questions tend to segment related aspects of autobiographical events from one another, and do not reflect the interrelatedness of events as indicated within the structure of autobiographical memory. In contrast, event history calendars do promote sequential and parallel retrieval within the autobiographical memory network. By reflecting the structure of autobiographical memory, the use of event history calenders has considerable potential in assisting respondents to reconstruct their personal pasts more completely and accurately, maximising the quality of retrospective reports.

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