SPEAKER 1: This is a production of Cornell University.
SPEAKER 2: In a book talk presented at Cornell University's Mann Library in September, 2013, Professor of Human Development Dr. Qi Wang examines the developmental, social, cultural, and historical origins of the autobiographical self, the self that is made of memories of our past. By analyzing everyday family storytelling, autobiographical writings in Western and Chinese literature, memory data from controlled experiments in the laboratory, and personal narratives on blogs and Facebook, Wang illustrates that our memories and sense of ourselves are conditioned by time and culture. She examines some of the most controversial issues in current psychological research of memory and analyzes the influences of the larger social, political, and economic forces on the autobiographical self.
QI WANG: So when I started my graduate school at Harvard in mid-1990s, in the first few classes I went to, I encountered this new concept, autobiographical memory. It's new, at least to me. I was curious, how come I never heard about this concept before, let alone the very exciting active research around it?
The reason I was curious, because I also was a psych major in China, back in China. And the problem I attended was also the topics in China. So we very much covered all the important theories, methodologies, findings, and so forth in psychology, but there is nothing about autobiographical memory.
Also, I observed something interesting to me. In the bookstores in Cambridge, there are often large sections of memoirs and autobiographies. There is always this sort of popular sort of pop culture appreciation of autobiography or memoir as a literary genre.
So that got me curious, as well. So what are the driving force underlying those cultural differences in academic interest in autobiographical memory, and also in pop culture interest in autobiography or memoir as a literary genre? So this initial curiosity later on turned into systematic investigation in the following two decades.
So what is autobiographical memory? In psychology, it is generally defined, this memory is generally defined as memory for significant personal experiences from an individual's life, something we often refer to as personal memories in a daily setting. Or literally, we can just say autobiographical memory is the memory that one would put in his or her autobiography, if they ever choose to write one.
So autobiographical memory can be-- think of as the memory that you have about your last vacation, your memory for the birth of your first child, the memory about a serious fight you had with a significant other, the memory that you had about a fun party you had at a friend's house, and so forth. So those are the memories for events that are situated in a specific time and place in the past. So when we remember about those events, they engender a sense of pastness in us, as if we are traveling backwards in time to re-experience those events. So such memory is very different from memory for general knowledge, such as a mathematics formula or chemistry, and so forth, which are decontextualized knowledge.
So you may ask, why is autobiographical memory? So what's important about it? How is it related to this book?
So philosophers have been telling us that man has no nature, but what he has is the history. In other words, a man or self is not defined by genetic predispositions or personality traits, but by accumulated personal experiences, and also the meaning one discerns from those experiences. In other words, we are the memories we keep, the stories we share, and the experiences we have from our lives. So our autobiographical self is made of our autobiographical memories.
So autobiographical memories gave rise to our autobiographical self. By understanding the nature of biographical memories, we can come to understand the nature of the autobiographical self. Or in other words, by understanding the nature or the characteristics of the history, we can start to understand the man. So that's the task I undertake in this book.
So what are the characteristics of autobiographical memories, of the history? So in this book, I try to illustrate that this history and the process of remembering this history is deeply situated in the larger culture and historical context, being shaped by a variety of factors. And those factors are way beyond the individual mind and the brain. So memory is not just a matter of mind or brain, but it's deeply situated in the larger context. And those sociocultural historical factors give rise to variations in memory content, structure, form, and more a sense of autobiographical self.
And then I further analyzed the processes of those influences, starting with the immediate social context of parent-child interaction in shaping the construction or then the development of the autobiographical self, in Chapter 1. So there's a one form of parent-child interaction have been shown to be particularly important in shaping the development of autobiographical memory. That is the parent-child sharing past together, or they have conversations about past experiences. And by sharing memories with the children, parents instill cultural values in the children and also mold the children what to remember, why to remember it, and how to remember it. And I examined memory conversations from different cultural context from a functional perspective, particularly focusing on families from European-American cultural background and East Asian cultural background, where most of the data basically came from.
So research has identified some sort of primary functions in terms of how people use their memory in their everyday life. So those functions can be categorized as four different categories. So we all use memory to gain a sense of self-continuity. So yesterday's me is the same self as what is the current me.
We also use memory to define ourselves and to express ourselves. And we also use memory to initiate a conversation or keep the conversation going, and also for entertainment purposes, for example, telling of funny experiences from the past. And most importantly for the social aspect of the memory use, we use memory to establish and strengthen social bonding with important people in our lives.
And we also use memory to understand and express emotions, and further, to regulate our emotions and moods. And memories obviously help us to learn new skills and to help us solve current problems. And we also learn from our past experiences, learn lessons from our past experiences so as to direct our current behavior and prepare for the future. So that's a directive function.
We have observed those functions in parent-child conversations about past experiences in different cultural contexts. However, there are some nuances that appear to be very specific to different cultural contexts that we have looked at. So I'm going to go to show you two conversation examples. One is from a European-American family. Another came from a Chinese family.
So this conversation takes place between a European-American mother and her three-year-old daughter about a vacation that they recently took. So the mother started with, do you remember when we were at Nana's on vacation and we went down to the dock at Grandmommy's? You went swimming?
What did you do that was really neat? Jump off the dock. Yes, that was the first time you've ever done that. That was like a diving board. You are right, it was. And where did the mommy have to stand? In a sandy spot. In a sandy spot, right.
Mommy said, wait, wait, wait, don't jump until I get into my sandy spot. Why? Because you remember how I told all the leaves pile up on the bottom of the lake and it makes it a little mushy? And so you jumped off the dock, and then what did you do? Swim to Nana, yes, all by yourself, with what on your back? Bubbles. Yes.
So this conversation illustrated a picture where the child is a central character of the story, where the mother frequently referred to the child's roles, actions, perspectives, and opinions in the past events, and encouraged the child to do so, as well. So conversations like this one cultivate a sense of autonomy and uniqueness in the child. And by focusing on past experiences of the child, particularly past accomplishment and success, it also encourages positive self view in the child.
So just as a point of comparison, this conversation taking place in a Chinese household involving both mother, father, and a four-year-old son. It took place during the dinnertime of the family. So the mother started the conversation, Baobao, did you tell papa what you did wrong today? He made a mistake again. Did you tell papa?
The child says-- mm, sounds like yes. So mom said, huh? Already told papa. You already told mama, right? Right. Did you tell papa? Papa doesn't know. No?
What happened to you at Aunty Lee's house? Baobao didn't want to go in. Mm-hmm. You were at the door and didn't want to go in. And then what? Didn't play with Edward. Mm-hmm. You didn't want to play with Edward. Hmm.
Anything else? At that staircase, you didn't say bye bye. Hmm. Didn't close the door properly. Mm-hmm.
Did you hear, papa? I heard. Baobao told papa already. I already told papa. Papa already know. Next time, Baobao will play better, will behave better, right? Next time, don't make mistakes, OK?
Conversations like this one is very commonly observed in East Asian cultural context, East Asian families. It focused on the past transgression of the child. So the parents repeatedly prompt the child to recount their past mistakes, right?
So the intention is to instill a set of behavior conduct in the child, right, to teach a child social expectations and behavioral norms. And in this case, also, the past event is given more significance, the influence of which goes beyond the conversational context, but really projects into the future. You have to behave properly in the future, better in the future.
So based on the conversation analysis I have generated, some distinct characteristics of family conversations in different cultural contexts, I will not spend time to go into each detail, but just leave this to you to explore if you're interested in knowing more about them.
And so instead, I'm going to talk very briefly about another kind of family conversations, so conversations about the child's experiences, for which the child recently had experienced, and also they had memories about. Oftentimes, they also are able to contribute to the conversation. It's only one of the many forms families tell stories together.
So in everyday memory, family conversation, you can also observe other types of storytelling. For example, parents talk about their own childhoods, what happened to them. Oh, the parents may talk about the old story of the child, which is also very commonly observed, which the child obviously does not have memory about and cannot participate, right? And the parents can also talk about what happened to great grandparents, great grandparents in terms of events from the family history. They may also talk about family social events, cultural events, or world historical events. So I call those family stories.
Just as important as a personal story is in constituting our autobiographical self. So family stories also play a very important role. Nevertheless, there is a very limited academic interest in studying family stories compared with the huge amount of literature or personal stories, so analyze the reasons to explain why that's the case, why there is a lack of interest in studying family stories. And I also analyzed family stories across different cultural contexts.
And again, I will leave that to you and move on to the Chapter 2, where I looked at the autobiographical self in the historical time, analyzing autobiographical writings from different historical periods in Western and Chinese literature.
So the initial inspiration for me to look at autobiographical writings came from the autobiography by my great-great-grandfather, who was a top-rank official in the Qing dynasty imperial court. His name is Tim [? Qinon. ?] I found it interesting because this book seems to be very different from what we commonly see in a contemporary Western autobiography.
First of all, it is very short. Each chapter has only one to two pages, recounting significant or significant life periods of the author or a significant historical event that the author experienced. Something, sort of a brevity, this kind of brevity or reticence is very commonly observed in Chinese autobiographies, something the literary scholar of Pei Yiwu referred to as the narrative economy in Chinese autobiography.
Another interesting characteristic of this autobiography is that it focused on what the external reality, and paid very little attention in terms of inner feelings and experiences. In other words, it's sort of focused on describing what's happening, what's going on in the outside world, so little concern in terms of personal voice or self reflection, and how those experiences are related to the author's self or personality.
Another-- and also, this book was initially written for the family only, so it was printed for only 200 copies and distributed just within the family. It's never meant for public distribution. And the purpose of the autobiography is to establish a moral sort of role model for the generations of children to follow, unlike what we commonly observed sort of various self-functions in Western autobiographical writings, or self-clarification, self-fulfillment, and self-definition and self-exploration, and so forth, that you see in Western autobiographical writings.
So what is autobiography? This term came originates from Greek, and historically it started to-- it first appeared in the late 18th century, first in German and then in English. Literally, it means a book written by oneself about one's own life.
But according to Western literary standard, a true autobiography, or autobiography proper, is characterized by the writer's inward reflection on his life in relation to his personality, rather than a simple record of external circumstances. Or in the famous literary critic Philip Lejeune's work, "autobiography proper is the retrospective prose narrative written by a real person concerning his own existence, where the focus is his individual life, in particular, the story of his personality." So by this standard, my great-great-grandfather's autobiography wouldn't be considered as a true autobiography.
Autobiographical writings went through centuries of transformation, both in Western and in Chinese literature. Just like any literary genre, autobiography largely reflects the life circumstances and current concerns of a particular time and culture. And because also it's purpose is to write about a self or a person, so in that case, it's inevitably conditioned by the conception of the self in a particular society.
But on the other hand, the conception of the self is very much a product of cultural configurations, which changes across historical eras. Even in Western society, the self has not always been conceptualized as a sort of unique individualized being, but have undergone centuries of transformation from initially observable behavior, social roles, and duties, to later on in their thoughts, personality, and agency.
And accompanying that transformation is a transformation of autobiographical writings in Western literature, which becomes increasingly a means, both a personal means and a cultural means, towards individuation and self fulfillment. So the general idea is that when societies change, views of the self change, so thus autobiography.
Based on-- so I analyzed autobiographical writings from different historical periods in Western and Chinese literature. And based on that analysis, I summarized some distinct features that separates modern Western autobiography from Chinese autobiography. Again, it's difficult to go talk about each of the characteristics without referring to the details of the analysis, so it would be ahistorical in that case. So instead, I'm going to show you just two examples to highlight the differences.
So this passage came from Rousseau's autobiography, Confessions, which is considered the first modern autobiography in the Western literature. So Rousseau started his autobiography by stating, "I am resolved on an undertaking that had no model and will have no imitator. I want to show my fellow man a man in all the truths of nature, and this man is to be myself, myself alone. I feel my heart and I know man. I am not made like any that I have seen. I venture to believe that I was not made like any that exists. If I am not more deserving, at least I am different. As to whether nature did well or ill to break the mold in which I was cast, that is something no one can judge until after they have read me."
So this passage sort of reflects this conscious commitment on a very unique, individual self, a self that is distinct, that is incomparable, that's unrepeatable. So it reflects the sort of emerging notion of individuality in the time in the Western society where personal uniqueness is recognized and celebrated.
Again, as a point of comparison, this is a passage from a very influential Confucian scholar from the Ming dynasty, which is considered as the golden age of Chinese autobiography, Wang Chi. So Wang Chi stated in his autobiography, "I seem to love all people, but I may be too indiscriminate. I seem to be much concerned with the affairs of the world, but I may be too pedantic in my approach. Sometimes I give full rein to my passions in dealing with people, yet I take it as being consistent in my likes and dislikes.
Sometimes I form partisan alliances and attack outsiders, which I justify by pretending to be impartial. When I do someone a favor and continue to remember it, I err in exaggeration. When I fail to repay favors done me by others, I'm ungrateful. My integrity is compromised when I let calculations guide my actions. If I take my gestures as to understanding, then my judgment suffers."
So this passage accentuates a self in relation, a self in relationship. It reflects the dominant Confucian aspects at the time in China, which emphasize self-examination for cultivated social purpose. So obviously, autobiography is conditioned by time and culture. So is autobiographical memory, which I move on to discuss in the rest of the book.
So in Chapter 3, I discussed the influence from larger cultural, social, or historical context, autobiographical self, particularly looking at the influence of cultural self-goals, the process of remembering our experiences. Psychologists have identified some what they considered fundamental self-goals, self-goals that's universally important, no matter where we live, self-goals that are essential for psychological well-being, just as important of water to a plant.
So those self-goals, autonomy, goals for autonomy is when the individual's cognition or behavior originates from self volition, then the person subsequently experience a sense of agency. And self-goals for relatedness is when individuals desire to be connected with significant others and to be effectively involved in the social world more generally. And then there is also self-goals for competence, where individuals strive to bring about desired outcomes and effects, and subsequently feel a sense of effectiveness.
And those self-goals, as fundamentally important as they are to people across cultures, they also show variations in terms of across cultures, in terms of emphasis and balance. In other words, cultures tend to prioritize the development, the expression, and the pursuit of different self goals. And in, turn those cultural priorities of goals, or what I call as the workings of goals, come to modulate the process of remembering by determining what kind of information gets encoded and retained in our brain, and also what kind of information gets retrieved at the time of recall. So in that case, those self-goals can profoundly influence the content and accessibility of our autobiographical memories.
I'm going to just focus on one set of self-goals to discuss in greater detail, self-goals for competence. As I said earlier, no matter where we live, we all strive to feel this sense of competence in ourselves. However, there is cultural variations in terms of what constitutes success.
So in Western cultures, there is a greater emphasis on the pursuit and maintenance of a positive affect state about the self. So feeling good about the self is highly encouraged and also valued. So that's the motive for self-enhancement. So in this cultural context, individuals are often motivated to use strategies to help them maintain and enhance a positive self view.
In terms of memory, where memory is concerned, the individuals will be motivated to cast themselves in a positive light by remembering positive experiences, by remembering past successes and past glory, which it would help them to maintain and enhance this self regard.
In contrast, in East Asian cultural contexts, there is a greater emphasis on actual change and improvement in the self. That is the self-improvement goals. And in this context, individuals are motivated to try to find, identify their own weaknesses in order to achieve true self-improvement. And when memory is concerned, they often-- the remembering would portray the individual in a more balanced manner, as opposed to very a successful and positive, and sometimes even self-critical manner, so that individuals can find self-diagnostic information from the past in order to help them to further improve themselves in reality.
So that is exactly what research has shown. For example, in this one study, Japanese and European-American participants were asked to remember all the past successes and failures from their life. What you see here is American participants record more successful incidences from their lives than failing instances, whereas Japanese participants recalled actually slightly more failure stories than successful stories.
In another study, researchers ask European and Asian-American college students to recall their past performance in an anagram task that they did a month ago. As you can see here, even though the actual performance didn't differ at all between these two cultural groups, in retrospective, European-American students remembered their performance actually better than actually did, whereas the Asian-American participants remembered they perform actually worse than they did, right? They remembered their performance as worse than they actually did.
And those cultural differences have been also shown in remembering positive or negative experiences more generally. When people are asked to remember the emotional experiences from their lives, most Americans have been found to consistently report far more positive experiences from their lives than East Asians.
For example, in this one study, participants from, again, Japan and the US, were asked to remember all the events that took place, happened to them during the previous two weeks. And then a week later, they were asked to remember those events again. So they basically assessed twice in a row.
For both time points, American participants recalled far more positive experiences than negative ones. So this is a ratio between positive and negative experiences, whereas Japanese participants recorded roughly a similar number of positive and negative experiences.
And when people were asked to remember the past experiences, East Asians more tend to spontaneously generate lessons from those experiences more so than European-Americans. Like in this particular study, we found that middle aged participants from China and the US, when they recalled their life events, Chinese participants generated more spontaneous lessons from the past, like from that experience I learned that perfection takes practice, something like that. So generate more lessons from-- lessons or morals from the past.
So remembering our autobiographical self is shaped by the cultural self-goals that's accentuated or emphasized in surroundings. In Chapter 4, I moved on to discuss the development of the autobiographical self to answer the question, when does our autobiographical self begin, right?
There's a very interesting phenomenon in psychology that when you ask adults or older children to remember their early childhood, oftentimes we cannot go all the way back. We cannot remember our own birth story, for instance. So this is sort of a common inability among adults, also older children to remember autobiographical experiences from the first years of life. It's referred to as childhood amnesia, also infantile amnesia. So researchers, psychologists have been studying this phenomenon for almost 100 years.
It's an interesting psychological question, what happened to those memories? Because if you ask a three-year-old what happened on the trip they did six weeks, six months ago, one year ago, sometimes they gave you some rudimentary information about what happened, right? So how come when we get older, we no longer have those memories? What happened to those memories? It's also an interesting philosophical question. If we don't remember this period of our life, what does it mean to us?
Adding to that interesting question is there are also systematic cross-cultural differences in terms of how far away we can go in remembering our childhood. In all this research that have been conducted, both in my lab and also in other labs, there is consistent found that Westerners, particularly European-Americans, are able to remember earlier first memories, that is their autobiographical history or autobiographical self starts from an early age, compared with East Asians. And the difference could be as little as six months or as big as two years, depending on the methodology used in specific studies.
Also, in terms of not only the age of the oldest memory difference, also, the density of childhood memories differs. So when adults from different cultures are asked to remember their early childhood, we found that adults from European-American culture and British culture are able to quickly access a greater number of childhood memories than did East Asians.
So why are those differences? In Chapter 4, I analyzed three cultural factors, cultural self-goals, cultural beliefs about emotion, and also family narrative practices to explain those cultural differences in age of first memory and also in the density of childhood experiences more generally. And so I will fast forward, and moving on to Chapter 5.
So in Chapter 5, I look closer at autobiographical memory to answer the question of when or at what stage of remembering culture matters. Memory is not just the whole process, you remember or you forget, but involve different stages of remembering. We attend to information. We encode the information in our mind or brain, and we retain those information over time. And at the time of retrieval, we recall this information and pieces of information together to construct a coherent story, right? So there are different processes involved.
So in this chapter, I discussed a wide range of cross-cultural findings to delineate the influence of culture on different stages for remembering. So from those analyses, I demonstrate that culture affects every stage of remembering, from initial encoding to a later consolidation, retention, to later to then eventually retrieval and putting things together into a coherent story. And also, culture influences, in this way, culture influences both what we remember and what we tell.
So all the cultural differences we have observed in the examples I presented earlier, it's not just how people talk about their experiences or tell the stories, but in fact, reflect how they actually remember those experiences. And of course, on the other hand, what we talk about, how we talk about our stories can in turn alter or change or even override what's initially encoded in our brain.
So what we remember and what we tell is a constant interaction. And in the end, what we remember is really a blend of what initially happened and subsequently how we tell the stories with others.
And from there, I move on to talk about the role of silence in remembering. Just imagine that if we have to be silent or reticent about our experiences, not to talk about experiences or not even to think about those experiences, then what is the implication for our memory about those experiences?
And if we see in a cultural context, if the culture sustains being silenced or reticent about one's experiences and discourages sort of extensive self-focused telling of one's experiences, then what happened to memories of people in that culture? So I don't think I have time to go into detail. I will just leave the interesting part to you to explore in the book, if you are interested in looking further.
Instead, I'm going to move on to talk about Chapter 6, the last chapter, where I examined the autobiographical self at the intersection of the personal time and the historical time, where personal experiences and historical events become connected. And I analyzed a variety of phenomenons or topics to demonstrate that the autobiographical self is shaped by the sociopolitical, economic, and technological characteristics of a society.
So the topics of including, for example, the influence of one child policy in China, which created a generation of singletons in China. What happened to them in terms of the autobiographical memory and autobiographical self. And living history, in fact, when 9/11 happened, you are right at the center, very close by, so you are really part of that history taking place, right, so how that impacts your memory later on in terms of remembering your own personal experiences.
Flashbulb memory, again, so related to, for example, 9/11, we all have these memories about where we were at the time when we heard about the news, who we are with, what we're doing at the moment, and so forth, what time it was so that's called flashbulb memory. Again, those type of memories situate a person in a particular historical moment. And that in turn can influence the way we view ourselves.
So reminiscence [INAUDIBLE] when we as adults remember our lifespan, we always tend to remember disproportionately more memories from our youth time, youth period from between about 15 to 25 years of age. It's a very interesting phenomenon and probably one of the most stable cognitive phenomenon in psychology So what does that mean in terms of defining our identity?
And then the influence of media and social media. So I don't have time to go through each, but just want to comment a little bit about the influence of social media, particularly the influence of social networking sites like Facebook, which features status updates. For those of you who use Facebook, you know that you can post sort of status updates to talk about your whereabouts right now, your current activities, and you can post those status updates as frequently as you'd like.
Some people probably only post things that you consider important, and some people tend to post things, every single detail about their lifetime-- I'm at the library right now, and then you are just writing to somebody. So every single moment of the life that's in the post. And those messages tend to be very short, I think it limits you to 160 words in Facebook, 140 words in Twitter.
And because of those characteristics-- and those are very public, right? Your friends and acquaintances can all see your posting. Some of them can be very intimate, considering by the traditional standard. So because of those characteristics, they gave rise to features of our autobiographical self that are distinctly different from the autobiographical self constructed in a traditional way.
So first of all, because it was a very frequent sort of posting of what's happening in one's life, status updates create a sort of ambient awareness of each other's presence. So even for people you hardly see, you see them. But because they post about what they're doing all the time, so it makes their presence really-- you're aware of the presence, which in turn can create sort of a psychological closeness and intimacy. That gave rise to an autobiographical self connected.
And also, those stats updates, oftentimes about what happens immediately before the posting or what's going on at the moment, or something that's just about to happen in the very near future, as opposed to something that happened long ago, right, so it wouldn't be considered status updates. So this is sort of a temporal immediacy, created an autobiographical self that's very much focused at the present moment in time. So that gave rise to an autobiographical self near, so the autobiographical self constructed in the original time with the temporal dimension is very much condensed to here and now.
Again, also autobiographical status updates, one is status updates. And then the next one is very unrelated. It's a sort of successions of different short messages about one's whereabouts. So without a suitable interpretive framework to connect all those diverse postings together to show, to tell people what kind of person the writer is, right, so there's no interpretive framework to connect those stories.
Instead, each posting represents a slice of the writer's current self. So that's autobiographical self slice. But on the other hand, the integration takes place in the reader side. Even though the writer didn't intend to put any meaningful framework to connect them together from the writer's side, because of the frequent posting, then the writer implicitly imposed some interpretive framework and to make sense of what kind of person this writer is. So that gave rise to autobiographical self outsourced. In other words, the meaning making, the construction of the self is actually taking place outside, as opposed to from within.
And finally, autobiographical self through the status updates can be appropriated through virtue of writer reason. Because of the immediacy of the posting and the frequency of the posting, those status updates can create a illusion in readers, among readers, so as if they are co-experiencing the life of the writer as the life unfolds. So when that's the case, you are actually taking on the life of the writers. And that particularly happens frequently in Twitter, where most of the people do not post at all, where very sort of small percentage of users post a large amount of information there.
So given the increasing influence of modern technology on our life, I made some suggestions about what the self would be like in the future. So I suggest that the self in the future may be categorized more and more so in terms of recency and fluidity, a self that is transitory, fleeting, disjointed, and uncertain. On the other hand, the self is also simultaneously connected, expressive, open and plastic, and perhaps as a result, actually adaptive to the psychosocial demands of the modern technology era.
So I'll just stop here. And I want to thank my very devoted and talented students who contributed to the research I reported in the book, and I want to thank you for coming. Thanks.
SPEAKER 1: This has been a production of Cornell University, on the web at Cornell.edu.
We've received your request
You will be notified by email when the transcript and captions are available. The process may take up to 5 business days. Please contact email@example.com if you have any questions about this request.
Qi Wang, professor of human development in the College of Human Ecology, discussed her new book, "The Autobiographical Self in Time and Culture" (Oxford University Press) Sept. 17, 2013 as part of the library's Chats in the Stacks series.
By analyzing everyday family storytelling, autobiographical writings in Western and Chinese literature, memory data from controlled experiments in the laboratory, and personal narratives on blogs and Facebook, Wang illustrates that our memories and sense of ourselves are conditioned by time and culture. She examines some of the most controversial issues in current psychological research of memory and analyzes the influences of the larger social, political, and economic forces on the autobiographical self.