Related Terms Life Review, Nostalgia and Autobiographical Memory

There are some concepts with elements similar to reminiscence but which do not share the same set of defining attributes (Burnside & Haight, 1992; Haber, 2006; Haight & Burnside, 1993). For example, life review, nostalgia, and autobiographical memory are related terms that are commonly used when discussing reminiscence, thus making them prone to misinterpretation. However, investigators stress the importance of being clear in the type and goals of the uses of reminiscence at hand, because this can help in determining the appropriate theoretical framework of the process (Burnside & Haight, 1992; Coleman, 2005; Haight & Burnside, 1993; Kovach, 1991; Woods et al.

, 2018).

The terms reminiscence and life review are often used interchangeably in the literature and may be misunderstood (Haber, 2006). However, it must be noted that they are separate interventions and have discrete interpretations with different theoretical underpinnings (Press, 2018). One of the differences between reminiscence and life review is that life review includes systematic evaluation of negative (or positive) past memories in a sequential chronology and is usually conducted using a more individualized approach (Westerhof & Bohlmeijer, 2014; Woods et al., 2005). Additionally, Woods et al. (2005) acknowledge the difference between reminiscence and life review, describing the main difference as lying in their origins and facilitation. While life review embraces the entire lifespan, occurs with specific time, and includes personal insights of the past, reminiscence embraces the flashbulb memory, uses props, and includes themes about the past (Webster et al., 2010a). Life review is a highly structured form of reminiscence and allows the participant to describe life meaning and value (Subramaniam, Woods, & Whitaker, 2014).

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In contrast, reminiscence does not focus on every detail of one’s memories in a sequential approach (Afonso, Selva, & Postigo, 2015; Haight & Webster, 1995), but focuses instead on the social and emotional benefit that the individual receives (Gillies & James, 2013). Life review is more formal and intense, tends to contain an evaluative component, utilizes a recollection of both recent and remote events throughout the entire lifespan, is performed between a reviewer and a therapeutic listener, occurs mostly on a one-to-one basis, and addresses both sad and happy times (Korte et al., 2014). Life review describes how the person’s memories contribute to the meaning of their life as a whole (Klever, 2013). Furthermore, life review conducted for educational purposes can teach or inform others, pass on knowledge and experience to a new generation, and/or enhance understanding of one’s own life (Haber, 2006). Reminiscence work is less personalized, and memory triggers tend to be less specifically relevant to the person (Yasuda, Kuwabara, Kuwahara, Abe, & Tetsutani, 2009). Life review is typically structured around one or more life themes, most often family themes ranging from one’s childhood to retirement (Zauszniewski et al., 2004). Shellman (2009) described life review as a systematic, universal, naturally occurring, and generally more evaluative cognitive process. It is precipitated by vulnerability (awareness of one’s mortality) or a serious crisis such as losing a loved one. Reminiscence is an essential facilitator of life review.

Accordingly, many researchers list life review as one type of reminiscence which assists in the life review process (Haight et al., 2003; Shellman et al). It reflects on experiences which have occurred in the reminiscer’s life, which can in some cases revive painful or unpleasant memories (Dempsey et al., 2014; Coleman, 2005; Subramaniam et al., 2014; Woods et al., 2005). Furthermore, Butler (1963) indicated a theoretical distinction between the processes of reminiscence and of life review. Life review comprises the evaluation and re-synthesis of past memories which are yet to be resolved in order to achieve a sense of life meaning, whereas reminiscence is the act of recounting and recalling the past memories (Haber, 2006). The purpose of life review is to lessen distress by providing understanding, support, and acceptance (Webster et al., 2010b). Coleman (2005) hold the opinion that life review is an adaptive response triggered in the elderly who have struggled in life. However, most participants in life review do not necessarily use the life review process for adaptation purposes. Reminiscence may be included as part of life review but is not synonymous with it. Westerhof et al. (2010) distinguish between reminiscence, the recall of memories, and life review, which involves the re-assessment of the lifespan with the intention of making peace with one’s life.

On the other hand, there are many commonalities between life review and reminiscence (Haight & Burnside, 1993). Both modalities utilize memory and recall. As a result, the recall may be viewed as a general umbrella that covers all modalities which utilize memory as a therapeutic tool. Life review and reminiscence use the past memories with different aims (Westerhof & Bohlmeijer, 2014). The root of each modality lies in Butler’s seminal work. In using either modality, the individual may recall both pleasurable and sorrowful times (Westerhof, Bohlmeijer, & Webster, 2010b).

Reminiscence and nostalgia. Nostalgia encompasses the review of the past by deliberately focusing on blissful memories (Wildschut, Sedikides, & Baden, 2004). Nostalgic memories are provoked by employing two main techniques: an event reflection technique and a music-evoking technique (Ismail, Cheston, Christopher, & Meyrick, 2018). For studies that employ the event reflection technique, participants are guided to recall nostalgic memories of the past and to immerse themselves in their nostalgic recollections. In utilizing the music-evoking technique, participants were led either to listen to or read the text of a well-known piece of music that they felt nostalgic about. Wildschut et al. (2004) upheld the idea that nostalgia offers an existential function by giving a source of meaningful life experiences which individuals utilize to defend themselves against concerns about death. Reminiscence differs from nostalgia in that it includes remembering specific past memories, whereas nostalgia is characterized by a fondness for past times, whether or not one has had the first-hand experience of them (Wildschut, Sedikides, Arndt, & Routledge, 2006).

Moreover, there is a specific theoretical background for nostalgia which differs from that of reminiscence. Theoretically, nostalgia has been mostly utilized as a resource or buffer against existential threats (Wildschut et al., 2006). Nostalgia also differs from reminiscence in that those antecedents of reminiscence include verbalizing the recollection to others, while nostalgia may be a cognizant, silent, solitary experience (Juhl, Routledge, Arndt, Sedikides, & Wildschut, 2010). General reminiscence aims at improving interaction in an enjoyable manner and is also aimed at enhancing cognition (Woods et al, 2005). Nostalgia transcends the ordering of past memories to entail relevant events; that is, people can reminisce about a phenomenon or event, but it is the emotional component that follows some of the memories that give such memories the longing sentiment of nostalgia (Juhl et al., 200). Study findings suggest that nostalgia reflects more positive than negative emotions, involves more desirable than undesirable features, and leads to more tranquil than distressed mood (Umar, Cheston, & Christopher, 2014; Wildschut et al., 2006). Nostalgia improves social connectedness, self-esteem, self-continuity, and meaning in life, as well as raises optimism (Ismail et al., 2018; Umar, Cheston, & Christopher, 2014). There are commonalities between nostalgia and reminiscence, including the focus on remembering past events, the fact that both are carried out by older adults and both modalities (when effectively conducted) promote positive outcomes (Ismail et al., 2018).

Reminiscence and autobiographical memory. Autobiographical memory is a memory system consisting of specific episodes recollected from a person’s life (Allen, Doyle, Commins, & Roche, 2018). The autobiographical recall tends to be low spontaneity, high structure, high evaluation, and medium comprehensiveness (Bluck & Levine, 1998). It is usually a planned event from which meaning and direction can be derived. The theory holds that autobiographical memory is highly organized and comprises three levels of hierarchically organized autobiographical knowledge:

  1. The highest level coincides with lifetime periods, categorized as stages of life measured in years.
  2. The middle level comprises general memories, episodes which by virtue of having occurred on more than one occasion which represents last days, weeks, or months.
  3. The lowest level coincides with specific events.

Practically, reminiscence and ordinary autobiographical memories involve recalling specific past events in one’s life, including the order in which these events occur (Cohen & Taylor, 1998; Coleman, 2005). These events are usually not supposed to be significant. Autobiographical memory is often absent in individuals with dementia (Harris, 2013), which ultimately disconnects their past from the present, making often rendering their capacity for autobiographical memory very limited (Bluck & Alea, 2011). An autobiographical memory differs from reminiscence in the sense that an autobiographical memory covers all the events of one’s life in chronological order, whereas reminiscence is a real-life experience of a person’s past memories (Lopes, Afonso, & Ribeiro, 2016). Specifically, the literature on autobiographical memory elucidates that memory for personal experience is not a direct and unalterable copy of past experience, but rather is partially reconstructed (Allen et al., 2018; Harris, 2013; Henkel et al., 2017b). While the autobiographical memory is a system that encodes and stores, recollection of all episodic information related to our personal experiences, reminiscence is a method by which this information could be accessed for use (Bluck & Levine, 1998). Thus, reminiscence is the act or process of recalling particular or generic episodes that need not be recalled in a specific order (Dempsey et al., 2014).

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Related Terms Life Review, Nostalgia and Autobiographical Memory. (2022, Feb 12). Retrieved from

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