Psychosocial Stages and the Accessibility of Autobiographical Memories Across the Life Cycle


  • This research was supported by the Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Bristol, and by an Economic and Social Research Council Postgraduate Training Award to Alison Holmes. The authors thank both institutions for their support.

can be sent to Martin A. Conway, Department of Psychology, University of Durham, Science Laboratories, South Road, Durham DL1 3LE, England, or by electronic mail to


Abstract Older adults recalled memories from each decade of life. Memories were classified in terms of the psychosocial stages to which their content corresponded. For the majority of memories it was found that age at encoding corresponded to when specific psychosocial stages would have been most likely to have occurred. In a second experiment older adults recalled memories to cues drawn from psychosocial stages and the same pattern of findings was observed. These findings demonstrate that the goals of the self play a major role in both the encoding and accessibility of autobiographical memories, and they also provide support for Erikson's psychosocial theory of development (1950, 1997).