Pillemer, David B. 1950-

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PILLEMER, David B. 1950-

PERSONAL: Born 1950. Education: Graduated from University of Chicago; Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ph.D.

ADDRESSES: Offıce—Wellesley College, 106 Central St., Wellesley, MA 02481.

CAREER: Psychologist and educator. Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA, 1978—, professor of psychology, faculty director of Learning and Teaching Center, psychological director of Child Study Center, and William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor Chair, 1999-2001.


(With Richard J. Light) Summing Up: The Science of Reviewing Research, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1984.

Momentous Events, Vivid Memories: How Unforgettable Moments Help Us Understand the Meaning of Our Lives, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1998.

(Editor, with Sheldon H. White) Developmental Psychology and Social Change: Research, History, and Policy ("Cambridge Studies in Social and Emotional Development" series), Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 2005.

SIDELIGHTS: David B. Pillemer is a psychologist whose research specialty is autobiographical memory, and he has studied memory development in children, including memory of trauma. His first book, Summing Up: The Science of Reviewing Research, approaches the subject of research in the social sciences. Science writer Donald W. Fiske commented that "for a problem in social science, the pertinent research literature is usually more diverse than that for one in natural science." Fiske felt that Pillemer and coauthor Richard J. Light "not only provide an excellent introduction to the new systematic methods for summing up and analyzing bodies of research but also examine the standard qualitative type of review, assessing the strengths and weaknesses of each approach." The authors suggest how results can be synthesized and provide guidelines to those who depend on such research, particularly educators.

Pillemer writes in Momentous Events, Vivid Memories: How Unforgettable Moments Help Us Understand the Meaning of Our Lives that "it is permissible and often valuable to view personal event memory as a belief system rather than a mechanistic entity filled with traces that are objectively true or false." Pillemer defines personal event memories as those that recall a single event and details of the rememberer's personal circumstances, and which are filled with sensory information that enables the remember to have a sense of reexperiencing the event. Pillemer studies how these memories teach us and help us in experiencing life.

He notes different types of recollections, including what he calls "flashbulb" memories. An example would be recalling exactly what you were doing when you heard that President Kennedy was shot. He calls memories of traumatic events, such as Hiroshima, "flashbacks." An example of an "insight" memory would be recalling arriving on a college campus for the first time. He writes that personal event memories can be either of two kinds of representation, image or narrative.

Biography reviewers Kathryn A. Becker and Jennifer J. Freyd noted that the focus of this book "differs from the focus of memory research traditionally performed by cognitive psychologists. Unlike laboratory memory research that asks college students to memorize lists of words or numbers, Pillemer's work, while still primarily empirical in nature, is more concerned with the personal significance of emotionally laden events than with the absolute accuracy or processing of details of memory for the mundane." Becker and Freyd concluded by saying that this volume "is remarkable in the comprehensive way the concept of personal event memories spans a great number of personally significant memories. The wide coverage is even more impressive in the context of insightful discussion on basic memory systems and child development."

Oral History Review contributor Valerie Raleigh Yow noted that Pillemer "summarizes many recent studies and shows their relationship to other studies." Yow felt that Momentous Events, Vivid Memories "is an outstanding text which presents research in a coherent way and is readable for people outside psychology."



Biography, spring, 2000, Kathryn A. Becker, Jennifer J. Freyd, review of Momentous Events, Vivid Memories: How Unforgettable Moments Help Us Understand the Meaning of Our Lives, p. 372.

Education Digest, March, 1985, review of Summing Up: The Science of Reviewing Research, pp. 70-71.

Oral History Review, summer-fall, 2001, Valerie Raleigh Yow, review of Momentous Events, Vivid Memories, p. 151.

Science, January 25, 1985, Donald W. Fiske, review of Summing Up, p. 407.

Times Literary Supplement, October 30, 1998, Janet Feigenbaum, review of Momentous Events, Vivid Memories, pp. 14-15.*