Personal possessions as cues for autobiographical remembering

Project is completed (PhD 2013-2018)

An encounter with personal possessions in everyday life, such as souvenirs, jewellery, or digital photos, may bring the past back to mind. Sometimes this is a quick and fleeting memory, other times it brings back vivid memories and emotional responses. Through three qualitative studies this PhD investigated personal possessions as cues: The cued responses personal possessions evoke, how the item-memories relationship evolves, and what characteristics of items facilitate cued remembering. An understanding of this process could facilitate the design of personal items or applications for cuing memories, for example in the field of Human-Computer Interaction.

The research revealed that cuing with personal possessions can result in a variety of outcomes, which were not always episodic memories. In addition, over time, cued responses can change (although the majority stayed the same) and we gained an understanding of what caused these changes. Features of the items used as cues, such as details or traces, can also act as cues. Particular types of traces, such as those resulting from age and use, were found to relate to memories and to an item’s imagined history. The findings showed the dynamic nature of the item-memories relationship, and the ways in which cuing can be facilitated or hampered.

Annemarie was in a joint PhD program with the University of Technology Sydney and Eindhoven University of Technology and defended her PhD on 16 October 2018 in Eindhoven, the Netherlands.

Videos and images

Image thesis cover Annemarie Zijlema designed by Evelien Jagtman ©
Thesis cover

Who are involved


  • Materialising Memories group
    Faculty of Engineering and IT
    University of Technology Sydney

    Building 11, Level 7, Room 217
    81-115 Broadway (postal address: PO Box 123)
    Broadway NSW 2007

    +61 (0)2 9514 8967

  • Future Everyday group
    Department of Industrial Design
    Eindhoven University of Technology

    La Place building, Level 1, Room 94 (LG 1.94)
    Laplace 32 (postal address: De Rondom 70)
    5612 AP, Eindhoven
    The Netherlands

    +31 (0)40 247 52 28

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