What is it about?

Memories that spring to mind unintentionally are common. We have shown that these memories are more positive in older than younger adults. In younger adults they tend to be more negative. When these unintentionally retrieved memories are more negative, they predict worse mental health; depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress are elevated. This pattern occurs in both age groups.

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Why is it important?

Memories that just pop into mind occur commonly and are informative. These may reflect differences in emotional regulation between younger and older adults. Older adults have preferential access to positive memories from their past whereas younger adults seem to have preferential access to negative memories. These memories also provide a window on mental health status.

Perspectives

We hope this work highlights that it is worthwhile to examine memories that seem to randomly pop into mind. Such memories are common and preserved even as people age. Researchers can use them to gain insight into people's mental health. By offering a way of examining these systematically, we are hopeful that the value of these kinds of memories can be further explored. For example the content of seemingly random memories can be used to better predict people's mental health.

Myra Fernandes
University of Waterloo

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This page is a summary of: Recurrent involuntary memories are modulated by age and linked to mental health., Psychology and Aging, November 2021, American Psychological Association (APA), DOI: 10.1037/pag0000630.
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