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The Early Memories Procedure: A Projective Test of Autobiographical Memory, Part 1 Arnold R. Bruhn Published online: 10 Jun 2010.

To cite this article: Arnold R. Bruhn (1992) The Early Memories Procedure: A Projective Test of Autobiographical Memory, Part 1, Journal of Personality Assessment, 58:1, 1-15, DOI: 10.1207/ s15327752jpa5801_1 To link to this article:

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The Early Memories Procedure: A Projective Test of Autobiographical Memory, Part 1 Arnold R. Bruhn Beilrediz, M D

i his ar:& inrroduces the Eirl: k4ernoiie.c Procedure dinprhe . seF and its needs, taklng respcnsib:iitv, and m a h i ; chaxges coxisten: wirh one r need? 2nd goals. Due ic; :ts. length:, thz art:cle is di\.;cied In half, and each ha5 i s , . ;ubhshe3 separatelv. Part ! introdxes the EMP and prcakk: 2 ra:icr,ale tor :;r use. Fart I: i!ius:rares how Eb4s can be interpreted with the cogriitij-e-?ercepr'~2i modei and presents s full E h P prorocoi and i2terp:etatior,.' 7




-h c cognitive-perceptuai

i model :E:ubr,, 1984,!W5, :9(SL'!a: I%@; B r u h Sr Ekiiou?, 1964, 1989; B r u h n Si Last, i982) :rears Eh4e as fanttasles ahout t h e past r h a t reveal present concerns \see Bruhn. I"%, for a d:sclission oiwhc:lxr Ehls are fantasies o r actuai memories). At the same rime, it :$. acknowieciged :ha: maniTEMS accurareiv depict h i s r o r d events. The cognitive- percept.^^! model stresses, however, t h a t it is not necessary to know whether an EXI evenr occurred as described ir, order t o make a n ~nterprctarim. Uniorrunarely, few c!inica\ evaluatcrs use Ehfs in their assessment Satter:es. 'Sanpie c:pes ofthe EKF ca:; he o h t a i n d from ilrnnid R. 3rd-i::. C h s Chase, ~ M;;D ZO&li.

Ph3. 17:'.i i i z : .4iwx!t.

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OTHER METHODS OF ASSESSING AUTOBIOGRAP HICAt MEMORY Perhaps the most coxman means ro assess zutobiographicai memory is to ask questions that puIl h r clierni opicions (e.g., "Vi'tiar was your father iike!"). This . . technique is open ro criticism became it assesses only W?:X tile c k z t csnsciousiy kmxvs. But there is another problem-the qyJesaor! usuaily yiekis wor:hiess inforn;ation. If the ciien: does not alreadr haire insight, then probing in this manner is largejy a waste of ciimcai time, A secon8 technique involves asking ques:ions that puii for conciusions: T i ? w was piinishmenr handled in yonr !'arrrily?" N d c e that the question krir,t?ii&iyrequire? clients t o scan 211 the:r . . famiiv memories ;r! autobiographical m e m x y related to punishmen: of' :he self and punishment of sibiings an:. tc give z s a x n a r y respcnse appm;?riate :G this universal set of rneinories. D3 ciient~actuaIiy get :hmxgh &is yocess! With rare 9

'For pre,ien: p.;rpose. axobiographica: memory rsr; be cmcepcualized as nersonal memory. A u t o h i a g r w p i memory car, he regarcied h r : ~ o c a l ! y as :kit aspec: of m e r n a r ~tha: pr:,\kies ar; . . iac,ILL, . *-. :i> the sel!, esnr-iaily the self in rclatior: :c :)thers and tc :he odd .A. more extenswe. d:scussisn of a.~to.ii:,~ra~2:icdmemory a d it,. ,iefir.:tiar: car; he f s s n J In liruhr: (l WOa, 13923).

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exceptions, no. If not, what. do they do? I have asked macy indi\riduals how they process this tvpe of question. and mw: s t a x that :he\. hare z mental p i c t ~ r eor series of pictures flash before rkem. Somerimes these piczxes are based on acraai cne-time events, and sometimes they are associated a h a cox.posire impres?-:on of how the parenr5. handed punishment situations. if we are interested ~n h o n pr,is'r,menr was often kendieci, "How was punishmen; handled in i70urfamijv!" is an a~propriztc?robe. Hcwez,er, if we a?an: rc know whether rhe ~ndriiduai has nnresolved mues related to p ~ n ~ s h m e nthis t , is not the bes: quescioc tc, ask. The proper assessment of a ~ t o b i o ~ r a p h i c amemory i wouid be, "'%'hat :s -\.osr earliest memory of being punished?"; "Wha: are rour ciearest or mos: imporrant memories of being ~unished?";and "'$(:bar is ypur most distressing men;=r;. oi being punished?" Xutobi~grapk~ical memories can be diryided :ntc three trpes. These inciabe memories that: (1) preserve the original perceptions and origmai coras:ruc~icn~ (experience as originally ?recessed:, j2! preserve the orlginai perceptions but ncliide revised constructions (e.g., as a result oisuicess5di psvchotherapy). pr (3') have been highly overworked in terms of horh or:girral perceptions. and ronstrucrions. It :s a simple matter to distinguish t\.pe 3 merrtor:es from wpes 1 and 2 . For instance? if ciients reporr that they see themselves In the memorv, the wirh nernorv must be a Type 3: because :r would be impossible for an ind:~.~duaI an origtnal perception (trpes ! and 2 ) to see hinseli or herse!f 13the scene. Types i and 2 can be difierer;t:ated according to whether :he constxction in :he m e a e r y is consistent wrr'h current beliefs. or xvhether ir reflects ar: archaic unders~andingconsistenr with the age at which the men or^ occsrred. Most memories ir: an EM? (Druhr,. 198%) are either types 2 or i, ~ v i t h:he Laxer predoninating. Tvpe i Ehls, which are exrremeiy rare, probably occxr in i % or less oi'a c1:cical popuixior, on the EMP. The Eh.IP provides a zleens of assessing all three Type? of memories, because each is interpreted ic a rimiiar mariner. Xevertheless, it is useiui to keep in mind c\.hich memix-ies are more iikeiy ;c be creativefv distorted, conrisrenr w t h presest coxerns.

i he hrst mismcierstaniiinp is the belief that ai'i EMS, drectiv s r indirectlv, involve traumas This error is a legacy horn classical psvchoanalvs:~. A central proyosition is rhar emodonaliy devastating events occasionaih osccrreci in ear!? Seienses, cac;sing ci-Adhood char fiooded and werwhelmed the incii\~id~ai's serions and often xreparabk ernoiional damage. Freud (!8?3,1?5?': heiievec! that alt'heugh suck memories ma): rexiam intact in 'long-term memory, mcre c o m m o ~ l vthey , are rerncved f r o n awareness :hrough what he termed a sc-em . memop, which is often rather b h n d and not part~cuiarlvno re worth^. Eie heid 7

that the origizal trauma could oken be uncovered b\: free association re&-. niques. i he error In Freud's thinking was ro take a &se: of E?& that are just as he described a r ~ dto generalize his findings: ti: Ehle as a group. i kzt is, if' some Ehls :nvotve ~raumatirevents (a trse statementi, then ail must iri~~olve either trau;?-ia:ic events or events char function as screens for. traunatic events la fake s:aterient). I have hoked at EMS &om several thousand individuais and seen perhaps a thousand more for. assessmenr ancb'or therapy. AIthough esrimates are hazardcxs, i estixzte :ha: perhaps 95% of all spontaneous EM$ from a wide cross-section of individuals are no: particuiariy rrzumetic. hstead, they reflect major ilfe interests. ice)- percepricns, and :mportzc: expectztio:ls, as v.rlI as salient aspects of the individual"^ currerx be'iief si7ste~; 2nd current world view. -. I 5ere is evidence from ~reud'slater wry.timgs :ha: he zbandoncd the concept of tra:;nas 2nd their pa:hcicsgicai impact. hst marly psi.chodynamicailr rex xed clinicians %lion>h i s eariier beliefs. . , Freud's position regarding screen memories, :n my opnior., is correct far some indi~iduais.Some individuals cic s u f k terrible experiences early in life, and m m y of these indii:iciuais are never abie ro recover, 'Th:b k most k l y 7 s be rrue in the case of severeiy distrrrbed indjviduais, and these were thc g-pes of patients x e d tended to see in his ciinicai work. hilost indi.t,iduais whc art not severeiy , d i s ~ d x d ,however, are net sc rigidly set in their basic charxter tnat they cannot change if they are motivated re d s so. Cognitive-percepd theory c.onceptuaiizee EMS ir: most instances as rcAecting the p r o d x r of a ereac:vc process witkin :he scif, nor t r . ~ ~ n aThe s . goai .-, . . , ot :his process is to remin6 the ?nci!vicicai what WOTK I Z 31s or her own personaj developrent ;s mosr pressing, The crearion of :he EbI begins with what can be .. called the c o x . A n exampie ivouk CE an individaai's a'biding sense sf vuherabiiiry an2 accoxipanying need security. The core of the memorr suggests a3 unresoii7ed issae, or what has been described as rhe iln,&tshed Swness (c!. 3ciihn, 19%; 8ruhri & Beiiow, 1984).Once the uniinisI~edbasiness is cs:abiizhed as a major p r i o r i ~en , ex7er?:is ?died born long-term memory thar bes: ciepcrs :hat issue. An example wonid 5- a boy who recailed tripping on a seek, siir,n:ng h:s knee, and running home crying ro his mother, Such a memory exFresses iri metaphor the individuai'z perception ot h:mseif as. inadequate, of :he worl2 as .- . dangerous, and af his resuk:ng neea ;or secarity 2nd succor. ~ a c hmernzriec tend :o persist as highlighted Eh'is as icag as the ar:fin:shed business remaiss constant for the individual. If hieroglyphics arc picrograr=.hs.EMS become perceptographs, or u7a\-sof s~:mboiicaliyexpressmg abstract percepSons mcier the gu:se of depicting ac:ual historical events. Perceptographs ca:: be conceprsaiized as visual symbols or metaphors that car, b e deciphered and trarisiated in:o verbal iangsage when the approprkte :echciquet are urilized. * . Another error regarcimg autobiographicai memory iunctmr, is the misappreRensmn that EMScomprise arm hisrorical reccrd and, as such, are carrec: :r: most m.ajor respecrs as weii as facr~aiiyascrzrate. This faliaq ieads us intc z a n y

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probietns-not just in treating clients bur in understanding o:irseIves. Adier 1 i 9 I 9 pzovided a particulariv :bought-provoking exampic o i 2 com~leteiy ficritious EM from his own past: '\o;t!y ' after !wen; t2 a boar3 schoo!, 1remember thar :he ?s:h ti. the xhcoi i e J mger a cemeterv. I was frightened every r i a - and was exi.ecd:ngl~ pet our a: behoiding ihe other children pass :he cemerer? wlchout paying :he leas: artenricn t i 7 it, while ever.; step !took wa: accompanied by ii ieeiing o i k z r and h o r r x . Aparr from the estrerne discomiox occasioned by this fear I was aisc. anrtcved at thc idea 3fSe:ng les:: than cowageous rhan the orhers. One day I nade up my mind rc put an end to tl:k fear ofrhedeath. i s a v e d at some distance behind the other:, piace2 rz,~ schooi bag on the ground near the wail sf rhe ceme:ery and r a n arms:, ir a &en times until i feit :hat I had rnastered che fear. (pp. 179-iS$

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?..iuch tc. his szrprise, Adler late: discovered in his m i d - 3 s while exchanging reminiscences with a school mare thar the cemeterv c7i his memories h a d nei7er exisred. -4dler remarked that the Eh4 served to refiect his "ionging t c c.17ercome dear'i:" as well as his choice of proiession. if autobiographical memory were organized in p e q l e as it might be in robors, faces would be accurate and distortion wonld he mir.irnal. Identicaity mandfactured robots would ail "see things :he same way," assuming equivalent experiences. People, 'nowe\ver, are not all manufactured the same wav. They come f ~ o different cultures: t h e v are raised by differrr,: families; a n d thev are ssbjecced tr, different liie experiences, 5 o m which they acquire different \-&es7 aa::udes! and, uitirnatelv, different ways oi perceiving :he worid. It IS, rherefcre, not surprising t h a t y i h ~ therapy ciient and conchded that :kt. chent's Iacer constructicl:~o i h e r EL& refiecred tile change. in her perspective thz: occurred as a resdt of pvcbo:her-


a ~ ui .n each case, personaiity a d deveiopmermtai variahies-not the Laws o: mem.ory-help us :o understand what is retained 2nd what is dropped from aurobiographical. memory.

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EM§ AS A PROJECTIVE TECHNIQUE 1f the recaiiectic.n of events in autobiographic& memory retlects the organizar;an of perscnaiity, then :here is warrant to conceptsa!rze EMS as a pr~t2ective technique. Let us consider the namre o i a projective technque. Rabin {cited ir; akhough prqcctive techniqtie bas been varroclsli; Corsitli, 19%) pointed out defined, ;he common denominators are containrd ir? the foliowing. propositions: "

I . Projective techniques presen: relatively aillbiguoss stimuli



the exzm-


2 . The techniq:3es are 'Yrespsnse-free" ic the sense that there are nc; rrght a r wrong responses and the exarr~irxe1s free :o gi1,"t whztev~rrespcnses appear snitabie.

3. Responses are interpreced as reflectmg i.e::rral persorsiiir~t.en6rncies and affective states.

4. The obtained records

are a i m viewed, in varying degrees, as refiections of the cngni:ive processes and personality s:vk of the subject. ( p . 78)

It is apparent by inspection that the E h P satisfies Rahin's fsur propositi~ns. , , There is only one propositicn-:he first - that warrants discussion. Some who are accilstomcd to crn'nig..~o.clspiciure cards or inkblots (i7isud stlmuiil quesrior! hc.w :he EMP is ambignous. %hat is ambiguous are the instructions to the subject: "Think back ro the earliest memory rhac you have, . . ."This :nsrruction gives the individuai considernhie kxitude in responding and, therefore, se:isfies the anbiguity reqc:rement in RaKinYsdef:citioc. Unlike orher. projective instrumects: there is lirtlc abour the narure of the procednre itself :hat n u s t be taken intc accounr ro understand the subject's response. F3r instance, wirh most prcjecc~ves,onc must uricjerstand the stimuius puLI for each pa" tf the technique. Thus, or! tbe Ro~srhacbcerrair: popuiar responses are thoughr to have Less ~ ~ g ~ ~ f i c Seceuse a n c c so n a r y indiviciuals report :he percept. For example, a winged insect or a bat is so frequcr,rly reporrcd 311 Card 5 &at, if a s ~ b j e c cmnot t see ruch a percept during a cesting of the limits: this fact by :rself woulci suggest ar? idiasyncracy :r,

The early memories procedure: a projective test of autobiographical memory, Part 1.

This article introduces the Early Memories Procedure (EMP), the first projective test of autobiographical memory. The EMP requires minimal one-on-one ...
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