The role of autobiographical memory in competence need satisfaction

Austin, Adrienne
Major Professor
Kristi Costabile
Committee Member
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According to previous work on autobiographical memory, reflecting on significant life episodes functions to support a positive self-concept (Bluck, Alea, Habermas, & Rubin, 2005; Conway, 1996; Fivush, 1998; McAdams, 1985) and facilitates emotion regulation (Bluck, 2003; Koole, 2009; Öner & Gülgöz, 2018; Wilson & Ross, 2003). As autobiographical memories have been linked with basic the psychological need for competence (Philippe, Koestner, Beaulieu-Pelletier, & Lecours, 2011; Sheldon, Elliot, Kim, & Kasser, 2001), the present project conducted three experiments to examine whether autobiographical memory can function to regulate competence need satisfaction.

Experiment 1 manipulated competence need satisfaction and tested whether reflecting on a competence-satisfying memory would be effective at improving competence need satisfaction for those who had it threatened. The results indicated that competence need satisfaction increased for individuals after they reflected on a time of competence success regardless of whether their need for competence had been threatened. Experiment 2 threatened competence need satisfaction for all participants and tested whether a need-relevant memory would be more effective at improving competence need satisfaction than a need-irrelevant memory. Additionally, Experiment 2 examined whether autobiographical memory would predict competence need satisfaction and in turn, affect, self-esteem and optimism. The results indicated that need-relevant memories were not necessary for improving need satisfaction; however, neutral memories did not contribute to need satisfaction and well-being to the same degree as competence-satisfying and relatedness-satisfying memories. Experiment 3 incorporated the same competence need satisfaction manipulation as Experiment 1, but gave participants an opportunity to choose the topic of a memory to report. The results indicated that participants were not more likely to select a competence-satisfying memory over a relatedness-satisfying memory; however, those who reflected on a competence-focused memory reported greater competence need satisfaction than those who reflected on a relationship-focused memory. Contrary to Experiment 2, the results of Experiment 3 were consistent with mediation effects, and provided support for the prediction that competence-focused memories predicted competence need satisfaction and in turn, well-being (positive affect, self-esteem, and optimism). The results of the present experiments highlight how autobiographical memory functions to satisfy basic psychological needs and well-being.