Why do People Regret More When Aging?

The autobiographical memory is the knowledge based on different levels of specificity. The prime focus of autobiographical memory in this paper is on episodic instead of semantic memories. The study explores how episodic autobiographical memory relates to the specific period of life and includes sensory perceptual information, such as sensory and visual, and is identified by the perception of “mental time travel.” It also investigates whether the effect of age-related positivity supports specific incidents of life in autobiographical memory. The paper reflects that the higher level of welfare links with better physical health and longer life expectancies. The findings conclude that past events, which involve the self and autobiographical memory, relate to the well-being, yet this relationship does not contribute to the accurate information production.


Emotions and regrets depend on a set of several circuitries of brain areas interplaying with neurotransmitter systems, sex hormones, and stress. Current circumstances and experiences shape them while self-directed control processes and feedback loops regulate and define how severe emotions get and how long they may last. All of these contextual factors and basic mechanisms transform with aging. Hence, the autobiographical experience changes as well. The autobiographical changes cannot always be predicted because aging brings health challenges, illnesses, and the limitation of social activities. One has to understand that the way an individual remembers his or her past influences both sense of self and general well-being. However, the processes establishing the linkage between self, memory, and well-being are not completely understood.

This paper examines the relationships between mental state and two kinds of autobiographical memory, i.e., semantic self-images involving autobiographical knowledge, which comprises the self, and episodic autobiographical memories relating to the memories of specific moments in time. Current paper reviews how autobiographical memory relates to the life-span of older people, how aging affects specific autobiographical memory, how the age-related positivity influences memory and attention, and which components of sense of self and autobiographical memory the aging affects. In addition, the paper examines how dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) impact the mental state of the aged people and how the self-agency, self-reflection, ownership, and personal temporality can turn memorial experience into the autobiographical personal one.

Definition of Autobiographical Memory

Autobiographical memory is the feature of human memory that concerns the memory of personally experienced past incidents and always involves knowledge at different stages of specificity. It is central to the human cognition contributing to one’s sense of self, ability to stay oriented and execute goals effectively in the event of past problem solving. Hence, it constitutes the crossroads of an individual’s life where considerations of emotions, self, goals, and personal values intersect (Hart, 2013, p.22).
According to the theorist of autobiographical memory, researches in this field mainly focus on episodic memories instead of semantic ones (Thomsen, 2009, p.451). The author findings suggest that episodic memories are connected with specific personally experienced incidents and usually contain sensory perceptual details such as sensory information and visual imaginary. A sense of memory as well as mental time travel identify them. On the contrary, semantic autobiographical memories include simple knowledge about a fact or an incident without the feeling of mental travelling back and recollecting a specific event.

Thomsen et al. (2011, p.271) developed this theory further proposing that semantic autobiographical memories typically contain knowledge of family members, their names, the countries visited on holidays, birthdays, weddings, and funerals. They observed that these events also accommodate the sets of attributes, beliefs, and activities that establish semantic self-images, for example, knowledge of a retired manager and a mother of three children. Thus, semantic self-images form specific self-relevant subdivision of the semantic autobiographical memory.
Research of Prebble et.al (2013, p.825) demonstrates that with aging, episodic memories become less reachable while semantic autobiographical memories are storable. It has been found that specific episodic autobiographical memories notably perform a variety of significant roles, which include promoting social relationships, acting as landmark among incidents in the life story, and encouraging individuals with their long-term objectives. However, recent work of Haslam et al. (2011, p.22) emphasizes the pivotal role of semantic autobiographical memory. The authors conclude that the ownership of the memories of this type plays a key role in enabling elderly people to maintain a perception of diachronic unity. They suggest that semantic self-autobiographical recollection is a bi-directional mediator between an individual’s identity and episodic autobiographical memory. Moreover, it has been acknowledged that episodic autobiographical memories offer the foundation for semantic ones, and these semantic facts support the self.

The Self

Scientific investigations regarding the sense of self in cognitive state approach their subject from an epistemological or ontological perspective. The latter examines the degree of the self as an object of philosophical and scientific inquiry, which attempts to determine what the self is. Experts examining the ontology of the self find themselves involved in a variety of thorny issues regarding body and mind, self-awareness, and other confusing questions. The long-lasting nature of these problems leads to the question of whether the imaginary understanding of the self is possible in actual or in principle. Although there exists a variety of issues created by ontology, this paper deals with the first-person epistemology referring to who and what we are, how we come to know and consider the presence of the self as an incontestable fact of individual first-person experience. Despite its complex characteristic, as an object of analysis, the self is a personal truth by virtue of its phenomenological acquaintance. In this regard, there are questions, which may arise on the basis of this acquaintance (“How have we come to know ourselves?”, “What makes us recognize that we have certain characteristics or features but not the others?”). Undoubtedly, they hold significance because necessary for the analysis of what the self is. According to Strawson (2001, p.2), the experience of the sense of self is the philosophical problem. This study forms a relationship between sense of self and autobiographical memorial experience.

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Investigations regarding first-person epistemology continue to hold scientific inquiry. Many scholars have invested their interest into the role of memory in experiencing the self. The basic idea explains that a person’s sense of self relates to memories of his or her past experiences and the ability to recollect those experiences. The supporters of this concept, Schlagman, Schulz, and Kvavilashvili (2006, p.168) confirm that an identity of person’s selfhood extends to that portion of past, which he or she can remember. Their work’s results suggest that the sense of self is formed with the help of the revival of personal experiences and defined in terms of memory. These authors also disapprove the fact that the sense of self stems from memory alone. In this paper, some critical discussion lead to the confirmation that memory serves as the basis for self-knowledge, and some of the psychological processes transform it into the autobiographical experience.

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The Self and Autobiographical Memory

The knowing of self largely relates to the narratives of what and how we experience, who we are, who has made us, and what we will do or what we have done. Autobiographical self-knowledge (ASK), in turn, demands an ability to express the self as a psychologically coherent entity continuing through time whose earlier experiences are recollected as attachments to its present self. Episodic memory performs this mechanism by permitting a person to travel back mentally in time to experience previously experienced events. Without this capacity, an individual would not be able to represent present and past states as features of personal identity, and, hence, would not realize that present mental condition represents an episode or previously experienced event.

For using memory as ASK three capabilities are required:

  • The ability to use self-reflection. It is the capacity to reveal one’s cognitive state and know about self-knowing.
  • A perception of personal ownership and personal agency. It is the belief that makes a person realize that he or she is the cause of his/her actions and also the feeling that acts and thoughts belong to him or her.
  • The capacity to think about time. It relates to the revealing of personal episodes and events focusing on the self.

Model of the self that explains self-reflection, self-agency/self-ownership, and subjective temporality is explained in the works of Gallagher (2000, p.18) and Klein (2001, p.41). Their findings propose that episodic memory can be interpreted as cognitive state that comes from the exquisitely tuned interaction of a set of psychological abilities, which turn declarative knowledge into autobiographical memorable experience. It implies that collapse in these components, i.e., self-reflection, ownership agency, and personal temporality can cause impairments in episodic memorial recollection on varying levels.
Disturbances in the Components of Autobiographical Memory


Adolphs, Sears, and Piven (2001, p.237) suggest that disturbances in extreme situation of cognitive functioning often occur because of frontal lobe pathology. Despite the fact that symptoms may differ both by the location and nature of the damage, prominent and consistent pathology is demonstrated in a decreased capacity to involve self-reflection. In parallel with the clinical observations of neuro imaging, the authors’ findings explain that the ability to self-reflect largely depends on formation and composition areas located in the frontal lobes. Hence, from the given analysis of the relationship between self-reflection and ASK, a necessity to uncover frontal lobe pathology, which the disabilities of episodic memory accompanies, comes. The scientific literature regarding the topic confirms these findings. In contrast, memory and cognitive state that does not demand awareness of recollecting personal events from a person’s past, for example, semantic and procedural is spared. People with autism also show limited ability to use self-reflection.

General Practitioner Assessment of Cognition (GPCOG) conducted a clinical study on children and elderlyly people suffering from autism and found that compared to healthy kids, children suffering from autism showed problems in reflecting on their cognitive state. On similar grounds, Brodaty et al. (2002, p.530) also approved that elderly autistic patients mentioned their inability to self-reflect. Elderlyly people with autism also have problems with episodic memory. Thus, their findings confirm that in comparison with non-autistic people, autistic ones perform poorly on tests of recalling memorial episodes especially when asked to recollect personally experienced incidents.

Self- Agency and Self-Ownership

According to Chessell et al. (2014, p. 382), “Pathologies of self-agency/self-ownership are among the indicative symptoms that associate with schizophrenia commonly observed with aging.” Many clinical findings support their observations because disturbances in self-agency exhibit such symptoms as withdrawal of thoughts and delusions of control. For instance, patients and elderlyly people suffering delusion of control encounter their actions and thoughts as if they have been created by external conditions rather than themselves. Certain symptoms are the signs of this type of illnesses. Thus, auditory hallucinations and thought insertion are the symptoms of disturbances in experiencing self-ownership. Thought insertion, for example, can be seen when patients disavow ownership of their thoughts and assign them to an outside source. If personal ownership and self-agency are among the necessary requirements for ASK, and schizophrenia forms a failure in these conditions, it implies that schizophrenics experience disorder of episodic memory. Significantly, these disorders appear unevenly in comparison to other memory impairments meaning that loss of episodic memory is not simply a part of mental deterioration.

The Sense of Personal Temporality

Episodic memory contrasts with other types of memory in the sense that it permits a person mentally move through subjective time to experience incidents from the past. If a prerequisite for “mental time travel” is the ability to form an awareness of the temporal dimensions of a person’s experience, it means that he/she is suffering impairment of self-temporality and may encounter difficulties in reliving declarative knowledge as part of his or her past. Despite the fact that little research in this field has been done to study the impact of the pathologies of subjective temporality on cognitive state, they have been largely supported.

Gardian et al. (2000, p 502) explored the cognitive state evolve using the case of the elderly patient A.K. who suffered brain damage resulting from anoxia due to cardiac arrest. Neuropsychological assessment of A.K.’s temporal orientation (mental state examination) showed extreme misconception with respect to the present. For instance, the patient could not recall the day of the week, present date, current year or even his age. Additional examination revealed that A.K. was unaware of his past and unable to predict what his experiences could be in the future. Undoubtedly, A.K.’s episodic memory is severely damaged as he was consciously unable to realize self-experiences from his past.
Another source of evidence is a study of Rathbone, Moulin, and Conway (2009, p.405), which shows critical disturbance of temporality that the elderly patient M.P. suffers. When physician questioned what she did before arriving at the, she answered she did not know. When asked where she would be going after leaving the clinic, the patient could not reply. Although M.P. showed severe disturbances in her thinking about future and past, she could recollect the present time within some features of psychologically build event boundary. She is able to play chess as long as nothing interrupts her but forgets whether a phone bell rings in mid-play. The authors proved that M.P.’s amnesia is profound because she is incapable of recollecting single self-experience from any point in her past consciously.

While these studies claim that disruption of self-temporality does not touch episodic memory, they also state that impairment in episodic memory causes pathologies of self-temporality. However, the deficit of episodic memory is not necessarily associated with disability in temporal consciousness. For instance, elderly people with retrograde amnesia fail to recollect their past events but they remember incidents happening after the brain damage that made them amnesic. In conclusion, patients such as A.K. and M.P. suffer from the disruption of self-temporality, and due to this pathology they are unable to experience cognitive state as autobiographical.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)

Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia damage people’s reasoning, thinking, and sense of self due to their aging. According to the survey of WHO, nearly 50 percent of centenarians in Denmark and 68 percent in Japan have AD (Irish, et al., 2012, p.135). Earlier, it was an impression that aging led to AD and dementia but now research of these authors confirm that AD and normal aging are two different tracks. This is due to the fact that normally aging renders the severe impact on front-striatal brain function whereas AD affects cortical networks and temporal lobes involving retrosplenial cortex and posterior cingulated. These different lines are also obvious concerning emotions and memory that are performed worse in Alzheimer’s disease cases than in the normal process of aging.


The findings of the scholars demonstrated in this paper suggest that episodic and semantic memories affect elderlyly people; however, there is an alternative view. According to own evaluation, elderlyly people with higher level of wellness benefit from that more than the ones having good social relationships and can recollect past events of their life, which enables them to increase life expectancies and physical health. Personal experience in this field supports the assertion that specific episodic and semantic autobiographical memories play critical roles in their lives including developing of social intimacy and acting as collection of memorable incidents in the life-story. Besides, it is certain that semantic memories are the most flexible element of autobiographical memory. This research follows the different approach comparing the functions of episodic and semantic autobiographical memory, calling for more extensive investigation of the role of semantic aspects of autobiographical memory.

Undoubtedly, the findings support the theory of autobiographical memory because some key psychological abilities such as a sense of personal agency/ownership, the ability to self-reflect, and an awareness of the sense of the self are responsible for the conversion of declarative knowledge into an autobiographical memorial experience. The autobiographical experiences would not happen unless all of these abilities are undamaged when considering the characteristics of episodic retrieval. Hence, possession an ideal database of episodic memories is necessary for event recovery whereas elderlylyly people lack it.

According to findings of the authors, symptoms of amnesia become more severe with age because aging affects the cognitive state, and they become incapable to recollect episodic memories. Here, again, my views differ from the assertion above because there have to be several different amnesic symptoms; each tends to impair different component of the memory required for experiencing autobiographical incidents. In addition, amnesia occurs because the database of episodic memories is being impaired.

Evaluations of the data shows that self-reflection, self-agency, self–ownership, and personal temporality are capable of causing a breakdown of memory system resulting in loss of autobiographical self-knowledge and recollection of memory irrespective of the age, for example, football players often suffers from A.D and amnesia even at young age. In addition, significant relationship exists between autobiographical memory and the self because the self-referring component of autobiographical memories separates these memories from the other memories of long-term autographical self-knowledge. In opposite, the mentioned authors suggest that autobiographical memories are not a source of the self and cannot be utilized to change or sustain components of the self.

These memories possess a close relationship with the features of self-schemas, which they support, and validate the cognitive state of a person. Hence, there is a need of extensive research, which should focus more precisely on the different aspects of semantic and episodic memories, because they establish age-related changes in the self and autobiographical self-knowledge. Nowadays, various researches in this area are unable to determine how these can relate to the well-being of the aged people.


The paper concludes that the concepts of the autobiographical memory and episodic one overlap. Event-specific knowledge and memory of the person’s experiences can be distinguished as autobiographical or episodic. The current findings also assert that the age-related positivity and well-being impact on the autobiographical memory. The perspectives on sense of self and memory are significant in autobiographical memory when it is considered from the angle of adult and aged people. Therefore, the study explores why some memories are storable and others disappear in length of time. The latter memories and ESK from the earliest years until old age have posed key challenges to researchers trying to understand what prevents the older people from travelling to the past beyond the four years. The study highlights that it is possible to conceptualize autobiographical memory as a cognitive state that roots from the interaction of a set of psychological abilities such as self-reflection, personal-ownership/agency, and personal-temporality transforming the memory representation into autobiographical memorial knowledge. The evidence of clinical cases findings concerning autism, amnesia, schizophrenia, frontal lobe pathology in the old age shows that failure in any of these components can cause disabilities in autobiographical recollection. Thus, the self-agency, self-reflection, self-ownership, and personal temporality contribute to autobiographical knowledge and memorial experience.

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