Story at a glance

  • Our life experiences help us form memories from specific times in our lives.
  • Researchers are interested in how a good memory could also be related to other aspects of life and health.
  • An analysis of data collected at the beginning of the pandemic and during it suggests that having a greater sense of purpose in life also leads to memories that are richer in details.

Memories are an important part of our lives and help create meaning. They are important for sentimental reasons but potentially also for other reasons. A new study looks into how having a good memory can tie into having a sense of purpose in life.

The study, published in the journal Memory, focused on investigating if sense of purpose in life and cognitive function are related to recent memories related to the coronavirus pandemic. Participants in the study were asked about sense of purpose and also completed tasks that are meant to measure processing speed and visuospatial ability. This happened in January and February of 2020, before the full effects of the coronavirus pandemic were more widely felt.

The researchers found that memories may have an important role to play when it comes to sense of purpose. “Personal memories serve really important functions in everyday life,” says Angelina Sutin, who is a professor in the College of Medicine at Florida State University and the paper's lead author, in a press release. "They help us to set goals, control emotions and build intimacy with others.”


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Participants in the study who had a higher sense of purpose before the pandemic also reported memories that were “more phenomenologically rich (e.g., more vivid, coherent, accessible),” according to the study. “We also know people with a greater sense of purpose perform better on objective memory tests, like remembering a list of words,” says Sutin. “We were interested in whether purpose was also associated with the quality of memories of important personal experiences because such qualities may be one reason why purpose is associated with better mental and physical health.”

One crucial part of the study was that they assessed sense of purpose at the start of the pandemic. “We chose to measure the ability to recall memories associated with the COVID-19 pandemic because the pandemic is an event that touched everyone, but there has been a wide range of experiences and reactions to it that should be apparent in memories,” says co-author Martina Luchetti, who is an assistant professor in the College of Medicine, in the press release.

The researchers write that people with greater sense of purpose have “autobiographical memories” with all that rich detail. “Memories help people to sustain their well-being, social connections and cognitive health,” says co-author Antonio Terracciano, who is a professor in the College of Medicine, in the press release. “This research gives us more insight into the connections between a sense of purpose and the richness of personal memories. The vividness of those memories and how they fit into a coherent narrative may be one pathway through which purpose leads to these better outcomes.”


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Published on Oct 14, 2021