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Intergenerational Transmission of Historical Events via Memory Open Access


Other title
Autobiographical Memory
Intergenerational Transmission
Collective Memory
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Svob, Connie
Supervisor and department
Brown, Norman (Psychology)
Examining committee member and department
Noels, Kimberly (Psychology)
Hirst, William (New School for Social Research, Psychology)
Singhal, Anthony (Psychology)
Dixon, Peter (Psychology)
Department of Psychology

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Intergenerational transmission of memory is a process by which biographical knowledge contributes to the construction of collective memory (a representation of a shared past). The purpose of the present research project was to investigate the mnemonic properties implicated in the intergenerational transmission of historical and non-historical events from a parent’s life. This was accomplished in a series of three studies. In Study 1, the intergenerational transmission of life stories in two groups of young adults was investigated: a Conflict group and a Non-Conflict group. Only those in the Conflict group had parents who had lived through violent political upheaval. All participants recalled and dated ten important events from a parent’s life. There were three main findings. First, both groups produced sets of events that displayed a reminiscence bump. Second, the majority of the events in both groups were transitions, which were perceived to have exerted significant psychological and material impact on a parent’s life. Third, in the Conflict group, 25% of recalled events were conflict-related. This indicates that historical conflict knowledge is passed from one generation to the next and that it is understood to have had a personally-relevant, life-altering effect. Moreover, the findings suggest that transitional impact and perceived importance help determine which events will be remembered from a parent’s life. Study 2 served to replicate and extend the findings of Study 1. The primary interests of the second study were two-fold: (1.) to examine characteristics of important historical and non-historical events from a parent’s life, and (2.) to better understand their importance for the next generation. This was accomplished by running the same 3-Phase paradigm as in Study 1 with three groups of young adults, children of: refugees, voluntary immigrants, and Canadians. The scale ratings in Phase 3, however, were extended. There were several findings. Historic events from a parent’s life were greater in their transitional impact on the parent’s life and perceived self-relevance for the subsequent generation than were non-historic events. Both sets of events demonstrated a positivity bias and were fairly frequently rehearsed. Functionally, important parent-events served self, directive, and social functions for the subsequent generation. Uniquely, the most important functions of historical events were to better understand one’s parent and oneself. Taken together, these findings provide insight into the properties of important historical and non-historical events that are transmitted across generations, as well as their functions for future generations. In Study 3, the intergenerational transmission of historical conflict knowledge and xenophobia via a parent’s life story was examined in post-war Croatians. Two groups of young adults were compared from: (1.) Eastern Croatia (extensively affected by the war) and (2.) Western Croatia (affected relatively less by the war). The methodology was the same as the one used in Study 2. Subjects were asked to (a) recall the ten most important that occurred in one of their parents’ lives, (b) estimate the calendar years of each, and (c) provide scale ratings on them. Additionally, (d) all subjects completed a modified Bogardus Social Distance scale, as well as (e) War Events Checklist for their parents’ lives. There were several findings. First, approximately two-thirds of Eastern Croatians and one-half of Western Croatians reported war-related events from their parents’ lives. Second, outright social ostracism and aggression toward out-groups were rarely expressed, independent of region. Nonetheless, in-group cohesion and solidarity were notably higher in both regions. Third, identity was implicated in social attitudes (Eastern Croatia) and correlated with a parent’s war experiences and degree of life story rehearsal (Western Croatia). This suggests a parent’s individual experiences can impact the next generation’s identity, but is insufficient to impact their social attitudes. Further, it suggests identity and social attitudes are predominantly socially constructed. Finally, the temporal distribution of events surrounding the war produced an upheaval bump, suggesting major transitions (e.g., war) contribute to the way collective memory is formed.
This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for the purpose of private, scholarly or scientific research. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
Citation for previous publication
Svob, C. & Brown, N. R. (2012). Intergenerational transmission of the reminiscence bump and biographical conflict knowledge. Psychological Science, 23, 1404-1409. doi: 10.1177/0956797612445316

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