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Published August 2010 | Supplemental Material + Accepted Version
Journal Article Open

Becoming a Better Person: Temporal Remoteness Biases Autobiographical Memories for Moral Events


Our autobiographical self depends on the differential recollection of our personal past, notably including memories of morally laden events. Whereas both emotion and temporal recency are well known to influence memory, very little is known about how we remember moral events, and in particular about the distribution in time of memories for events that were blameworthy or praiseworthy. To investigate this issue in detail, we collected a novel database of 758 confidential, autobiographical narratives for personal moral events from 100 well-characterized healthy adults. Negatively valenced moral memories were significantly more remote than positively valenced memories, both as measured by the valence of the cue word that evoked the memory as well as by the content of the memory itself. The effect was independent of chronological age, ethnicity, gender or personality, arguing for a general emotional bias in how we construct our moral autobiography.

Additional Information

© 2010 American Psychological Association. Received March 10, 2009. Revision received November 17, 2009. Accepted December 7, 2009. We thank Jessica Stockburger for help in collecting and selecting the memories, Jessica Levine for help with data entry, and Tony Buchanan for help with pilot analyses. This research was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to Ralph Adolphs.

Attached Files

Accepted Version - nihms200690.pdf

Supplemental Material - EMO-Escobedo20090946-RR-F1.doc


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