Memory, Part 3: The Reminiscence Bump: Remembering the "Good Old Days"

In 1986 Duke University researcher Dr. David Rubin conducted studies that first established the so-called “reminiscence bump”. That is, his research showed that, regardless of his subjects’ age, people had a greater number of memories between the ages of 10 and 30 than at any other time in their lives. His research also established that people also remember recent events but that they fade in memory gradually all the way back to the “reminiscence bump”. Since that time this finding has been replicated many times and is considered a robust truth about human memory.

When parents or grandparents talk about the “good old days” it turns out they’re likely talking about their teens and 20s. Why should this be the case? Some researchers have speculated that these years have more novel events within them thus making them more memorable. However, there has been mixed evidence for this hypothesis. A more current theory, promoted by Dr. Rubin, suggests that there are more memories during this period because our enduring adult identity is being forged during these years.

For parents, this research should serve to highlight the importance of the teen years. In fact, some researchers believe that the peak of the “reminiscence bump” can be narrowed down to between 13 and 18 years of age.  If so, this is a critical time for the parent-child relationship. The memories of these years stay with our kids more than any other time in their life.  Teens are slowly developing their identity and growing out of a dependency on their parents and into an interdependent type of relationship. Parents should see this as an opportunity to support their teens and to develop a healthy reconfigured relationship for the future. The way your adult children remember you could depend on it.

Are your teens and early twenties “the good old days”? Tell us what you think.

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