The smells of Christmas past and bouncing back from threat
Our ability to recall autobiographical memories is a building block of how we see ourselves, how we communicate with others, and how we solve problems. Personal memories are an important toolbox for a variety of psychological functions, and have been increasingly investigated for more than 15 years from a functional perspective. The purpose of my talk is threefold. First, I introduce what autobiographical memories are, and how they are different from other memory types. Second, I report on my recent research on the link between olfaction and memory, which investigates whether memories that we recall in response to scents are special memories. Indeed, we find support that olfactory cues enhance the vividness of childhood memory recollection. Third, I outline how our memories may help us in coping with challenging situations (e.g., feeling stereotyped, failing a test, etc.). The self-affirmation literature consistently finds that writing about personally relevant values buffers against threat by providing individuals with an avenue towards an uncontested part of their selves. I argue that autobiographical memories may be considered an alternative mechanism for self-affirmation, and I provide first evidence for this view.
** Michael Bender is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Social Psychology at Tilburg University (The Netherlands)