Recounting our past experiences is a pervasive part of social interaction. Whether we are talking with old friends or new acquaintances, speaking with faraway relatives, or simply chatting with our family around the dinner table, we talk about the past. In fact, estimates based on spontaneous conversations among families indicate that conversations about past events occur as often as five to seven times an hour (Blum-Kulka & Snow, 1992; Miller, 1994). Why is talk about the past so prevalent? Clearly, when recounting an experience to someone who was not present, the narrative has an informative function. By telling someone about the kinds of events that we have experienced, we are both telling the listener something about the kind of person we are (e.g., Brewer, 1986; Bruner, 1987; Fitzgerald, this volume; Fivush, 1988), as well as imparting important or interesting information about events in the world.
But much of social interaction focuses on recounting events with others who shared these experiences with us. This kind of joint remembering, or reminiscing, serves a very special purpose, that of creating interpersonal bonds based on a sense of shared history. In the process of recounting, interpreting, and evaluating our experiences together, we are creating a shared understanding and representation of our world and the ways in which our lives are intertwined (see also Bruner & Feldman and Hirst & Manier, this volume).