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Narrative Identity: the construction of the life story, autobiographical reasoning and psychological functioning in young adulthood

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posted on 2021-11-13, 20:39 authored by Banks, Megan Vanessa

According to McAdams' (1988; 1993) Life Story Model of Identity, narrative identity is constructed through the development of the life story in adolescence and young adulthood. This theoretical claim has sparked an emerging body of research examining links between the development of the life story and psychological functioning during this developmental period (McLean & Breen, 2009; McLean, Breen, & Fournier, 2010; Tavernier & Willoughby, 2012). The aim of this thesis was to contribute to this emerging body of work by examining the relationship between autobiographical reasoning, the core process through which the life story develops, and psychological functioning in young adulthood. Across four studies, young adults constructed life story narratives of high points, low points and turning points from their life story. These narratives were coded for the presence, and valence, of autobiographical reasoning. Autobiographical reasoning was measured primarily in terms of self-event connections, statements linking an aspect of the narrated event to the young adults' sense of self (McLean & Fournier, 2008). Autobiographical reasoning valence was measured in terms of self-event connections that described the self in positive, negative, neutral and mixed (positive and negative) ways. The first study (Study 1a) showed that the valence of autobiographical reasoning found in young adults' life story narratives predicted psychological functioning. Young adults who made negative self-event connections in life story narratives experienced poorer psychological functioning (measured in terms of psychological distress and psychological well-being) than young adults who made little or no negative self-event connections. Conversely, young adults who made more positive self-event connections experienced comparatively better psychological functioning than those who made fewer positive self-event connections. The relationship between positive self-event connections and positive psychological functioning was most salient in the context of narratives about negative events from the life story. Study 1a also showed that for young adults who tended to make higher numbers of positive self-event connections, endorsing negative events as central to the life story was not associated with poor psychological functioning, whereas it was for young adults who made fewer positive connections. The second study (Study 1b) presented a methodology for examining the relationship between autobiographical reasoning valence and psychological functioning over time. Although the small sample size in Study 1b prevented firm conclusions being made, findings showed that young adults' tendency to make negative, but not positive, self-event connections remained stable over time. The preliminary findings from Study 1b also showed that positive and negative self-event connections in life story narratives were not associated with changes in psychological functioning over time. The third study (Study 2) found that young adults' tendency to reason about the self in positive and negative ways was associated with a number of cognitive response styles (explanatory style, rumination and use of cognitive reappraisal strategies). The results of Study 2 also highlight important ways that cognitive response factors, and young adults' assessments of meaning in their lives, may interact with autobiographical reasoning valence to predict psychological functioning. The fourth study (Study 3) aimed to investigate relationships between the phenomenology of life story memories and the amount, and valence, of autobiographical reasoning in narratives of these events. Findings showed few associations between autobiographical reasoning and autobiographical memory phenomenology. Possible reasons for the absence of these relationships are discussed. Wider implications and theoretical explanations for the findings reported in this thesis are discussed in terms of models of coping and Relational Frame Theory (RFT; Hayes, Barnes-Holmes, & Roche, 2001).


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970117 Expanding Knowledge in Psychology and the Cognitive sciences

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Psychology


Salmon, Karen; Jose, Paul