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Emotion has a very powerful impact on humans’ memory. A lot of studies have shown that the most vivid autobiographical memories are most likely to be of emotional events. These events are likely to be recalled with more clarity, with more detail and more often than other neutral events. This process of emotionally enhanced memory retention is often linked to responsive behavior towards environmental events during early development and to human evolution.
In Jana Hensel’s book, After the Wall, she was thirteen the night the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989. In all the excitement over German reunification, nobody stopped to think what the reunification meant for Jana and others of her generation of East Germans. They were the children of the seventies who had been brought up in the spirit of Communism with all its comforts including: the cheerful Communist propaganda, the Young Pioneer youth groups and the knowledge of knowing that they lived in a Germany untainted by a callous capitalist future and the ugly Nazi past. Hensel writes on through a wide range of subjects: the erasure of memory; her ambivalence about their childhood; East German youth's alienation from their Western peers and her generation's compulsion to disguise themselves as Western; their inability to blend in with the new world, which led to a role reversal in which Hensel found herself most of the time "interpreting" Western customs for her parents (Hensel 10-57).
In the blink of an eye, everything she knew was gone and East Germany disappeared. It was swallowed up by the West and in for its replacement was everything Jana and her friends had been dying to have for so long: pop CDs, designer clothes, Hollywood movies, magazines and supermarkets. They took up every mannerism or possible Western product they came across. They changed everything about how they walked, how they talked, what they read or the places they went. They took English lessons, cut off from their parents and even opened bank accounts for themselves.
Fifteen years down the line, they all had the right haircuts and drove the right cars but they didn’t know who they were or where they were going. In her book, Hensel narrates the story of a confused generation of her fellow East Germans, who were driven to leave their past and find their way through a foreign lifestyle to a future of uncertainty. Now as they try to reminisce, they wonder whether the past oppressive, yet comfortable life of their childhood wasn't as bad as it seemed after all (Hensel, 34-48).
I was born in Seoul, the capital city of South Korea. In most of its history, South Korea has always been a busy and a very tough place to live. I don’t know why it has always been this way but maybe it’s because South Korea had developed so rapidly in a very short period of time and in that process, majority of the people grew up and lived through numerous and intense competitions among themselves. Most of the people in South Korea believe life is like a never ending race and once you fell behind you lose.
My first year in middle school was in 1998. The computer game ‘Star Craft’ a big thing in our country and everybody, including me, loved it. In that same year, our national soccer team was beaten 5 goals to nil by Holland in the soccer World cup held in France. It was really a big disappointment not only because it was our best eleven members ever but also because people needed some hope, maybe just a smile, from all the economic suffering from IMF (International Monetary Fund). Numerous Korean companies went bankrupt, merged and many people lost their jobs, including my uncle. Before the crisis, my uncle has always been a very busy man and I barely had the chance to get to know him. Soon after his retrenchment, he became the most available man I could hang out with anytime I wanted. We hung out most of the time playing Star Craft and billiard in my neighborhood.
I had never known I had such a funny uncle. He used to tell me all kinds of interesting and intriguing stories about my mom and grandmother from way back in time before I was born. He occasionally threw in some boring stories about how he got fired from work but that never caught my interest at that time. Three years later it was time for me to graduate from middle school and enter high school. I moved to the United States and life became much better. Back home, my uncle was once again employed and South Korea’s economy recovered and got back to its feet. Many people remember that time as a horrible time but to me that time contains precious childhood memories of the moments I had with my uncle.
An autobiography is mainly an art of perspective and an art of juxtaposed perspectives. It is an art of contrast and integration with the present commenting upon the past and the past commenting upon the present. Hensel tries to imagine how life would be like without the reunification of Germany, without all the westernization and she continued with the communist life they led before. To me, I never thought I could have a fun filled childhood with my uncle were it not for the crisis that hit our country. I wouldn’t have got to know his interesting personality and have so much fun with him if he wouldn’t have lost his job in the first place . It may bring back memories of suffering and hardship for most people but the memories are different for me.
Autobiographical memory is mainly described as an imprint experience, a ghosting or sketchy version where the significant facts remain and unnecessary detail is most of the time discarded. Autobiographical memory, as seen previously, is more subject to being biased in the attempt to maintain perspective shifts and that homogenous continuity as well as interference of our poetic information. Our human brain has a special function in which it erases the bad memories to protect itself. People tend to remember good things better than bad things because the brain chooses to do so. This might be a defense mechanism to make us happy and without much stress. If every time we keep remembering bad experiences, we will be stressed and unproductive to our core business.
Understanding memory for emotions is significant because most of our conceptions of our lives, more so those which are meaningful, and therefore usually emotional and experiences are based mainly on what we remember. In addition to that, most measures of emotion are retrospective measures. Therefore, it is very important to know whether these measures accurately reflect current experiences. Autobiographical memory thus links my present self with my own particular past experiences and actions. Such memory has naturally played a big role in both philosophical and psychological theories about continuity of self.
Memory has directive or action-guiding functions, social, as well as identity-related functions. In the same way I remember my personal past relatively depends on the kind of person I perceive myself to be, and my memories may change on the basis of alterations in that self-conception is stronger. There is more direct feedback from relative self-representation into character, with ongoing relationship lived out between a self-ascribed character and his/her actions, memories, emotions and plans. However, on other occasions or in other people, there can be important gulfs between the control of action and autobiography, because we can get by with less coherence between life and story.
Scientists have always been interested in trying to understand what we remember about our past and why we remember it. However, figuring out the best way to study autobiographical memory presents a big problem. Scientists would like to elaborate more on the "bump," but they all have been unable to agree on what accounts for it. One of the discredited theory states that the bump the “reminiscence effect" is simply a reflection of brain functioning, and that is the reason why so many memories are remembered from these past years because that's the time when the brain is working at its best. Another theory says that it's because numerous events are new and exciting to individuals when they are young, and also because there's little chance for other or similar experiences to interfere with how well things are remembered or learned. The third theory states that individuals establish a story about who they are and their personality based on experiences in their twenties and teens, and that lesser new memories need to be inserted into that story once their perceived identity has been fully established.
In conclusion, it is hard to separate where the autobiographical memory and other forms of memories begin and end. Clearly they both are different systems intertwined together because of their similarity. Despite this, autobiographical memory clearly is more influenced by emotions other than the other forms of memory.