Written by Alexis Mitchell UNCC ’18
Self-disclosure, the act of sharing self-relevant information with others, has been a common research topic for those studying intimacy in relationships. Another topic among research surrounding intimacy are the potential benefits of including autobiographical memories into a conversation. An autobiographical memory refers to a memory for something that you experienced, that took place on a specific day, and lasted one day or less. Specifically, autobiographical memories are frequently discussed to form and strengthen social bonds. Sharing specific autobiographical memories in conversation may have an especially powerful effect on how individuals feel about their conversation partners (Beake, Brandon, & Cole, 2016).
The goal of the research reported in Beake, Brandon, & Cole (2016) was to use the methodology of self-disclosure research to test whether the disclosure of specific autobiographical memories is distinguishable from the disclosure of more general information about the self.
When people get to know each other, they may begin by sharing generic information. However, when they start to share their own personal stories, the unique experiences that have made them who they are today, they begin to differentiate themselves from every other individual in a profound way.
Therefore, specific autobiographical memories may be distinct from traditional self-disclosure of general self-information because sharing memories with such intimate and engaging qualities ought to quickly and easily bond people.
In this study, 205 participants were recruited from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk site. 55% of the participants were male and 74% were Caucasian. Participants were asked to think back over the previous 24 hours to all of the conversations they had had, consisting of more than a simple exchange. Beginning with the most recent conversation, participants indicated whether they and their conversation partner had discussed any specific autobiographical memories. Participants were asked a series of questions, for example, “Did you talk about any specific events from YOUR life?” In order to further measure closeness between partners, the Inclusion of Other in Self Scale (pictured below) was used. The Inclusion of Other in Self Scale is an abstract visual representation of the degree of intimacy in the relationship as perceived by one partner.
The results reveal that participants who reported a high incidence of discussing specific autobiographical memories with their conversation partners also reported greater feelings of closeness to those partners.
This study may influence further questions of intimacy and communication amongst partners. It suggests the importance of revealing important past life experiences to others in order to strengthen or initiate an intimate bond.
Beake, D. R., Brandon, N. R., & Cole, H. E. (2016, April 1). Is Sharing Specific Autobiographical Memories a Distinct Form of Self-Disclosure? Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 145(4), 434-450.
Image found: Aron, A., Aron, E. N., & Smollan, D. (1992). Inclusion of Other in the Self Scale and the Structure of Interpersonal Closeness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63(4), 596-612.