Reminiscence Bump


I remember days when I was fifteen or sixteen years old that occupy more memory space than some entire years of my adult life. There are teenage first experiences that I recall as vividly as if they happened two days ago, especially those I cherish most or regret a lot. I remember clearly my unaccompanied first airplane flight, making out with a girl all night long with our clothes on, the initial time I had my heart-broken and the earliest heart I hurt. The interior of my first car is memorized even today.

As we grow older, we tend to feel like the previous decade elapsed more rapidly, while the earlier decades of our lives seem to have lasted longer. Similarly, we tend to think of events that took place in the past 10 years as having happened more recently than they actually did.

… curiously, we are most likely to vividly remember experiences we had between the ages of 15 and 25. What the social sciences might simply call “nostalgia” psychologists have termed the “reminiscence bump”… The reminiscence bump involves not only the recall of incidents; we even remember more scenes from the films we saw and the books we read in our late teens and early twenties. … The bump can be broken down even further — the big news events that we remember best tend to have happened earlier in the bump, while our most memorable personal experiences are in the second half.

The key to the reminiscence bump is novelty. The reason we remember our youth so well is that it is a period where we have more new experiences than in our thirties or forties. It’s a time for firsts — first sexual relationships, first jobs, first travel without parents, first experience of living away from home, the first time we get much real choice over the way we spend our days. Novelty has such a strong impact on memory that even within the bump we remember more from the start of each new experience.

Most fascinating of all, however, is the reason the “reminiscence bump” happens in the first place: Hammond argues that because memory and identity are so closely intertwined, it is in those formative years, when we’re constructing our identity and finding our place in the world, that our memory latches onto particularly vivid details in order to use them later in reinforcing that identity. Interestingly, Hammond points out, people who undergo a major transformation of identity later in life — say, changing careers or coming out — tend to experience a second identity bump, which helps them reconcile and consolidate their new identity. From “Why Time Slows Down When We’re Afraid, Speeds Up as We Age, and Gets Warped on Vacation” by Maria Popova

Memory is a tricky thing. I have realized over time I tend to unconsciously make adjustments to what I recall. Memories that come to mind most become the most indelibly stamped on my brain. My greatest joys are made grander and the most painful memories are mentally sculpted to be more distressing. The primitive part of my mind dedicated to survival makes an over-sized issue of the latter. I am grateful to be reminded that pain tries to remembered far more than joy. In making my way forward it’s important tto reverse that tendency as much as I can; focus on the joyful memories and think less about the painful ones.

I don’t want to repeat my innocence.
I want the pleasure of losing it again.
From “This Side of Paradise”
by F. Scott Fitzgerald