Moving Gives You a More Memorable Life

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Photo: Zen Sekizawa

If you are of the opinion that moving house is, to put it succinctly, the worst, you have the bulk of the scientific literature to back you up. When researchers have studied relocation, they’ve typically focused on the downsides: Frequent moves are associated with greater levels of anxiety and loneliness, perhaps because it’s hard to hang onto the friends you’re leaving behind. And that’s just for adults; it seems to be even harder on children.

And yet: It’s not all bad, right? It’s fun to explore a new neighborhood, and the first few days at a new job are at least as exciting as they are terrifying. It’s exactly that sense of newness that’s at the heart of a new study, spotted recently by psychology writer Alex Fradera* at BPS Research Digest, as all the novelty seems to be doing something rather interesting to your autobiographical memory.

Your memories of events that happen just before and just after a move seem to stand out as feeling especially vivid, argue a trio of researchers from the University of New Hampshire, in a paper recently published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. In interviews with people older than 65, the researchers asked a series of questions, including: What were some of your most memorable experiences between the ages of 40 and 60? And how many times during those decades of your life did you move?

If left purely to chance, the researchers theorized that about 13 percent of those especially memorable events should fall within three years of their moving dates. What they actually found, as Fradera explains, was that 26 percent of those memories tended to fall around the time of their moves, double what you’d expect were it truly random.

The researchers call this the “relocation bump” – it’s a nod to the “reminiscence bump,” the term describing the annoying psychology behind why you never truly leave high school. Your teenage years are the ones when everything is new; of course it’s easier to remember the particulars of your first-ever job interview rather than your fifth. And that’s likely what’s happening here, too. Moving marks a new chapter in the way you mentally organize your own life story, a placeholder to which you can easily flip back.

*An earlier version of this post stated that the author of the BPS Research Digest piece was Christian Jarrett.

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Moving Gives You a More Memorable Life