Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Faculty of Science

First Advisor

Roger Buehler

Advisor Role

Dissertation Supervisor


The subjective temporal distance of a past event—how close or far away it feels—is influenced by numerous factors apart from actual time. The present studies extend research on subjective distance by exploring the experience of remembering autobiographical events as part of a stream of related events. It is proposed that a key determinant of subjective distance is the temporal direction in which events are recalled. Five experiments supported the hypothesis that people feel closer to a target event when they recall a stream of related events in a backward direction (i.e., a reverse-chronological order ending with the target event) rather than a forward direction (i.e., a chronological order beginning with the target event). In Study 1, relative to those engaged in forward recall, students engaged in backward recall felt closer to the day they found out they were accepted into University. The effect of recall direction on subjective distance was replicated in the next two studies and possible alternative accounts, such as recency (Study 2) and anchoring (Study 3), were ruled out. In Study 4, students engaged in backward recall perceived less change had occurred since the target event and felt closer to it than those engaged in forward recall. Study 5 provides evidence for the proposed mediational account. The effect of recall direction was mediated by participants’ perceptions of change in their lives. Backward recall created the impression that relatively little had changed since the target event which, in turn, made the event feel closer. Implications for research on the subjective experience of remembering autobiographical events are discussed.

Convocation Year