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The Stories We Keep: Autobiographical Memory in American and Chinese Middle-Aged Adults


  • Qi Wang, Department of Human Development, Cornell University. Martin A. Conway, Department of Psychology, University of Durham, England.
    We thank John Walker and Francoise Vermeylen for statistical consultation. We also thank Jing Cheng, Xingmei Chen, Ying Lin, Heather Lord, Lynda Park, Matthew Vernon, and Alison Holmes for their assistance, as well as our participants who made this study possible.

should be addressed to Qi Wang at the Department of Human Development, Cornell University, Martha Van Rensselaer Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853-4401. Electronic mail may be sent to


Abstract One hundred and eight European American and Chinese adults, aged between 38 and 60, participated in this questionnaire study. They each recalled 20 memories from any period of their lives. Memory content was analyzed as a function of culture (U.S. and China), life period (childhood, youth, early midlife, and peak midlife), and gender (female and male). Across the four life periods, Americans provided more memories of individual experiences and unique, one-time events and focused on their own roles and emotions. In contrast, Chinese were more inclined to recall memories of social and historical events and placed a great emphasis on social interactions and significant others in their memory narratives. Chinese also more frequently drew upon past events to convey moral messages than did Americans. In addition, memory content evidenced age-related increases in both autonomous and social orientations. Findings are discussed in light of the self-definitional and directive functions of Autobiographical memory in the context of culture.