Accessibility of observable and unobservable characteristics in autobiographical memories of recent and distant past


Self-reports regarding how people visualise themselves during events that occurred in the past show that for events from the distant past individuals report assuming a more external perspective than for events from the recent past [Nigro, G., & Neisser, U. (1983). Point of view in personal memories. Cognitive Psychology, 15, 467–482; Pronin, E., & Ross, L. (2006). Temporal differences in trait self-ascription. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 90, 197–209]. Thus it appears that, with the passage of time, representations of self embodied in memories of past events lose their position of an insider and assume a more ordinary position of self as an object seen from the perspective of an outside observer. The purpose of the present experiment was to examine this shift using a performance-based measure of accessibility. Results showed that self-judgements regarding unobservable, covert characteristics were faster for recent—compared to more distant—autobiographical events. However, self-judgements regarding observable, overt characteristics were faster for more distant events. This suggests an accessibility-based mechanism underlying the shift from internal to the relatively more external perspective in forming self-images related to the distant past.