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Personal and intergenerational narratives in relation to adolescents’ well-being



Narratives of the self are embedded within families in which narrative interaction is a common practice. Especially in adolescence, when issues of identity and emotional regulation become key, narratives provide frameworks for understating self and emotion. The authors' research on family narratives suggests that adolescents' personal narratives are at least partly shaped by intergenerational narratives about their parents' childhoods. Both personal and intergenerational narratives emerge frequently in typical family dinner conversations, and these narratives reflect gendered ways of being in the world. Adolescents who tell intergenerational narratives that are rich in intergenerational connections and perspective-taking show higher levels of well-being. These findings suggest that individual narrative selves are created within families and across generations.
Fivush, R., Bohanek, J. G., & Zaman, W. (2010). Personal and intergenerational narratives
in relation to adolescents’ well-being. In T. Habermas (Ed.), The development of autobio-
graphical reasoning in adolescence and beyond. New Directions for Child and Adolescent
Development, 131, 45–57.
Personal and Intergenerational Narratives
in Relation to Adolescents’ Well-Being
Robyn Fivush, Jennifer G. Bohanek, Widaad Zaman
Narratives of the self are embedded within families in which narrative interac-
tion is a common practice. Especially in adolescence, when issues of identity
and emotional regulation become key, narratives provide frameworks for
understating self and emotion. The authors’ research on family narratives sug-
gests that adolescents’ personal narratives are at least partly shaped by inter-
generational narratives about their parents’ childhoods. Both personal and
intergenerational narratives emerge frequently in typical family dinner con-
versations, and these narratives refl ect gendered ways of being in the world.
Adolescents who tell intergenerational narratives that are rich in intergenera-
tional connections and perspective-taking show higher levels of well-being.
These fi ndings suggest that individual narrative selves are created within fami-
lies and across generations. © Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
NEW DIRECTIONS FOR CHILD AND ADOLESCENT DEVELOPMENT, no. 131, Spring 2011 © Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Published online in Wiley Online Library ( • DOI: 10.1002/cd.288
This research was supported by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to the
Emory Center for Myth and Ritual in American Life. We would like to thank Kelly
Marin, Mary Ukuku, Davina Mazaroli, Andrea Barrocas, Hanah Gizer, Kelly McWil-
liams, Amber Lazarus, and Marshall Duke for their contributions to the design of the
larger parent project as well as assistance in data collection and coding.
Autobiographical narratives are both the process and the product of
self-understanding and emotional regulation. We create meaning
through creating narratives (Bruner, 1987). The ways in which we
recall the events of our lives help to defi ne who we are in the world, and
how we understand ourselves and others (Bluck & Alea, 2002; Bluck &
Habermas, 2000; Pillemer, 1998). One critical function of autobiographical
memory is to use past experiences in ways that allow us to cope with aver-
sive experiences, resolve negative affect, and draw on past emotions in the
service of understanding the present and future (Bluck & Alea, 2002;
Marin, Bohanek, & Fivush, 2008; Sales & Fivush, 2005; Sales, Fivush, &
Peterson, 2003; Pillemer, 1998). Indeed, a great deal of research with adults
has demonstrated that adults who are able to narrate the emotional events
of their lives in more self-refl ective ways show better physical and psycho-
logical health (Frattaroli, 2006; Pennebaker & Chung, 2007), indicating
that autobiographical narratives play a critical role in regulating emotion.
Autobiographical Narratives Are Socially Constructed
Autobiographical narratives are not individual constructions; narratives of
our personal experiences emerge in everyday interactions in which we
share the events of our lives with others. Everyday conversation is replete
with stories of the past. Whether chatting over the dinner table, talking
over the phone, sharing daily activities or favorite stories with friends or
family, we share the stories of our lives, and in this process, we reinterpret
and reevaluate what these experiences mean to us and for us. Thus, narra-
tive meaning is created in social interactions in which our personal experi-
ences are interpreted and evaluated through social frames and interactions
(Conway, Singer, & Tagini, 2004; Fivush, 2008). Moreover, in the give-
and-take of daily interaction, we do not simply talk about ourselves; we
hear the stories of others. Thus, how we come to understand our personal
experiences through socially shared narratives evolves in a context in
which we also listen to the stories of others, and these stories can provide
powerful frames for the way in which we understand our own experiences
(Fivush, Bohanek, & Duke, 2008; Norris, Kuiack, & Pratt, 2004; Mar,
Peskin, & Fong, Chapter Six; Pratt & Fiese, 2004).
The Socio-Cultural Perspective. The idea that narrative meaning-
making is constructed in social interactions stems from a Vygotskian
perspective (1978), in which individual development is conceptualized
as occurring within social and cultural contexts that privilege certain skills
and knowledge; the social world is organized in ways that highlight cer-
tain activities and practices, and children are encouraged to participate in
these activities in ways that lead to the development of culturally impor-
tant skills. Telling and sharing one’s personal past is a culturally mediated
activity that is more or less valued by particular cultures, and particular
members within a culture (Wang & Ross, 2007). In Western culture,
having and telling one’s autobiography is highly valued (Fivush & Nelson,
2004; McAdams, 2001; Nelson, 2006). From the moment of birth, chil-
dren are surrounded by stories, stories they tell about themselves, stories
others tell about them, and the stories of others (Miller, 1994). Even in the
rst year of life, well before infants can participate in these narrative inter-
actions, they are hearing about the triumphs and failures of past family
members as fi ltered through the family stories told over and over to enter-
tain, to soothe, and to teach (Fiese, Hooker, Kotary, Schwagler, & Rimmer,
1995; Norris et al., 2004; Thorne, McLean, & Dasbach, 2004). Thus, indi-
vidual lives are situated within family histories and individual stories are
modulated by the stories of others, especially family stories.
Adolescence as a Critical Developmental Period. Narrative mean-
ing-making may become increasingly important in adolescence, as chil-
dren transition into an adult identity. Several key skills develop and
coalesce during adolescence that allow the individual to create more mean-
ingful and more emotionally regulated autobiographical narratives (see
Habermas & Bluck, 2000, for a review). First, adolescents become cogni-
tively able to engage in sophisticated perspective-taking, which allows
them to understand and integrate the perspective of others into their own
views, as well as to integrate their own perspective through time, from past
to present and projected into the future (Habermas & Paha, 2001; Harter,
1999). Related to this, adolescents become capable of analyzing and inte-
grating confl icting emotions, and better able to cognitively reframe events
in ways that allow for emotional regulation (Compas, Campbell, Robin-
son, & Rodriguez, 2009; Harter, 1999). Emotional regulation skills may be
especially important as adolescents experience increasingly intense and
uctuating emotions (Arnett, 1999), and the parent–child relationship
becomes more emotionally labile (Laursen, Coy, & Collins, 1998).
Although we know that personal narratives are important in the devel-
oping self-concept and emotional well-being throughout childhood (see
Fivush, Haden, & Reese, 2006, for a review), the social and cognitive skills
that develop in adolescence allow for a new way of understanding both
one’s own and others’ experiences, through the increasing ability to take the
perspective of others and integrate multiple viewpoints, as well as to create
a more overarching life narrative that integrates multiple individual experi-
ences (Habermas & de Silveira, 2008; Reese, Yan, Jack, & Hayne, 2009).
Thus examining how adolescents create meaning through narratives of self
and of others is a window into how adolescents are understanding their
experiences in larger social and familial contexts, and how they are using
these experiences to understand themselves and their emotions.
The Family Narratives Project
In The Family Narratives Project, my students and I are studying family
narrative interactions in multiple contexts in families with pre-adolescents
(eight- to twelve-year-olds) and adolescents (fourteen- to sixteen-year-
olds), in relation to multiple measures of identity and well-being. We have
been particularly interested in personal narratives and intergenerational
narratives, specifi cally the stories adolescents might know about their par-
ents’ childhoods. We assess narratives in multiple contexts to gain a broad
perspective both on how narratives are created in shared conversations, as
family members each contribute and weave a story together, as well as in
contexts in which adolescents are asked to independently narrate specifi c
types of events to an interviewer. Following from the sociocultural perspec-
tive, we view family co-constructed narratives as a critical context in which
parents help adolescents to structure their experiences in ways that allow
for emotional expression and regulation, and these skills will be internal-
ized such that family narrative styles will be refl ected in the adolescent’s
own narratives over time. Here, we report on an initial cross-sectional study
with adolescents and their families, but based on longitudinal research with
younger children, we assume that longitudinal patterns with adolescents
will mirror earlier fi ndings that parental reminiscing style infl uences chil-
dren’s developing narrative skills (see Fivush et al., 2006, for a review).
Narratives Around the Dinner Table. In an initial study, we chose to
examine how personal and family narratives emerge in daily social interac-
tions within families with a child transitioning into adolescence, and how
these narrative interactions might be related to children’s emotional well-
being. We focused on family dinnertime conversations, as this is a time
when the family comes back together at the end of the day and shares the
days’ events with each other (see Bohanek, Fivush, Zaman, Lepore, Mer-
chant, & Duke, 2009, for more detail). We assumed we would hear many
“Today I . . .” narratives, stories of what each family member did that day
(Blum-Kulka, 1997), and we further assumed that families that shared
their daily activities together in more elaborated ways, through collabora-
tive narrative interaction in which family members request, provide, and
negotiate information, would facilitate emotional regulation through
shared meaning-making. We were curious about the extent to which fami-
lies would also refer to more remote events, events from the family’s past,
during a typical dinnertime conversation, and how these stories might be
related to children’s emotional regulation. We reasoned that if children are
constructing meaning for themselves both from their personal experiences
and through the experiences of others, then we should see relations to
emotional regulation for both personal stories and family stories.
Method. We asked thirty-seven broadly middle-class, ethnically
diverse, two-parent families with at least one child between the ages of
nine and twelve years old to tape record at least one dinnertime conversa-
tion. All members of the family were present during these recordings and
the number of children in the family ranged from one to six, with a mean
of 2.7. Audio tapes were transcribed verbatim, and two coders jointly
examined each transcript and identifi ed narratives that emerged within
the dinnertime conversations. A narrative was defi ned as any mention of a
past event, whether earlier that day, last month, or an event from the dis-
tant past, such as a story the parent tells about her own childhood. For
purposes of these analyses, other topics of conversation over the dinner
table, such as talk about future events, talk about general dispositions and
traits (e.g., “I know you like pork, that’s why I made this.”), and talk about
general world knowledge (e.g., discussions of how electricity works), were
not considered.
Narrative Interaction. Perhaps not surprisingly, narratives accounted
for a large proportion of typical family dinner conversations. On average,
in a twenty- to thirty-minute dinner, a narrative emerged every fi ve min-
utes; we identifi ed 235 narratives, with a mean number of 6.35 narratives
per family. Most narratives were about recent events, events of that day or
the day before (a mean of 4.02 narratives per family), but about a third of
all narratives were about remote family events, events that occurred at
least several weeks in the past, with the majority of events occurring many
years ago (a mean of 2.08 remote narratives per family). Although our ini-
tial interest had focused on shared stories, perhaps we should not have
been surprised that many families told stories of events that happened to
the parents when they were children (26 narratives in all, accounting for
12 percent of all narratives told), which we labeled intergenerational
Overall, mothers and children contributed more to the narratives (a
mean of 161.21 words for mothers and a mean of 139.53 words for chil-
dren) than did fathers (a mean of 89.54 words). However, although there
were more narratives about recent than remote events, once a narrative
was initiated, family members contributed as much information about
remote as about recent events. That families were so engaged in co-narrat-
ing remote family stories suggests that these narratives are an important
part of daily family interaction. Indeed, children initiated stories about the
family and intergenerational past just as often as did parents, and the high
level of involvement in co-narrating these stories suggests that these are
narratives that are told frequently and greatly enjoyed.
Family Narratives and Adolescent Well-Being. Provocatively, when we
examined relations between participation in family stories across the din-
ner table and children’s emotional well-being, as assessed by the Child
Behavior Checklist (CBCL; Achenbach, 1991), which measures both inter-
nalizing behaviors, such as anxiety and depression, and externalizing
behaviors such as aggression and acting out, we found differential patterns
for type of narrative and gender of parent. Mothers who were more
involved in co-narrating remote family stories had children who displayed
fewer internalizing behaviors. More specifi cally, mothers who provided
more information (r = .31), confi rmed more information (r = .34), and
negated more information (r = .33), indicating that they were more
involved in telling the family story and negotiating what happened, had
children with lower internalizing behaviors. In contrast, fathers who were
more involved in the “Today I . . .” narratives, narratives that family mem-
bers shared about their individual day’s activities, had children who dis-
played fewer behavior problems. Specifi cally, fathers who solicited their
children’s “Today I . . .” narratives through requesting information had chil-
dren with fewer internalizing (r = .32) and externalizing (r = .31) behav-
iors. These patterns suggest that parents may play different roles in family
narratives, with mothers being the kin-keepers, keeping the family history
alive and meaningful (Rosenthal, 1985), and mothers who do this have
children with higher levels of emotional adjustment. Fathers, in contrast,
tend to spend more time away from the family during the day (even those
mothers who worked full time in our sample reported spending more time
at home with children than did the fathers). Those fathers who are more
involved in catching up on the day’s activities and creating new stories for
the family have children with higher levels of emotional adjustment.
Intergenerational Narratives. While we were expecting “Today I . . .”
narratives over a typical family dinner, we were somewhat surprised at the
number and variability of remote family stories told in this context. That
these kinds of family stories, including intergenerational narratives about
parents and grandparents, emerge reasonably frequently in daily interac-
tion, and that these stories (at least as co-narrated by mothers) are related
to child well-being, suggests that these kinds of narratives provide a
framework for adolescents to understand the world and themselves. Some
research has suggested that adolescents who incorporate their parent’s
“voice” into their own narratives, especially about experiences that teach
values and morals, show higher levels of well-being (Arnold, Pratt, &
Hicks, 2004; Thorne et al., 2004). These studies examine the extent to
which adolescents tell a story about themselves that includes lessons pro-
vided by their parents, but do not really address the stories that adoles-
cents may know about their parents. Our results suggest that adolescents
who are embedded in a storied family history show higher levels of emo-
tional well-being, perhaps because these stories provide larger narrative
frameworks for understanding self and the world, and because these sto-
ries help provide a sense of continuity across generations in ways that pro-
mote a secure identity (see Fivush, Bohanek, & Duke, 2008, for a full
theoretical discussion).
Gender Differences in Parent Childhood Stories. Some research has
also examined the stories that parents tell their children about their own
childhood. These studies have focused on gender differences. Gender
identity theory posits that females are more relationship and emotion ori-
ented than are males, whereas males are more achievement oriented (Gil-
ligan, 1982), and research fi nds that adult females tell autobiographical
narratives that are more relationally and emotionally focused than are the
autobiographical narratives of adult males (Bauer, Stennes, & Haight,
2003; Fivush & Buckner, 2003; Thorne & McLean, 2002). In line with
these fi ndings, mothers tell stories to their preschool children that are
more relationship and affi liation oriented and fathers tell stories that are
more achievement oriented (Fiese & Bickham, 2004; Fiese & Skillman,
2000). But to date, no one has examined what children take from these
stories. What stories might adolescents know about their parents’ child-
hoods and how might these parental intergenerational narratives be
related to the adolescents’ own well-being?
Method. To explore this idea, we asked 65 fourteen- to sixteen-year-
old adolescents from broadly middle-class, racially diverse families to tell
us stories they might know about their mothers’ and their fathers’ child-
hoods (Zaman & Fivush, 2009). Almost all the adolescents were able to
provide two stories they knew about both their mother and their father
when they were a child. No adolescent was unable to tell any intergenera-
tional narrative. The narratives varied, from stories about family relation-
ships in the parents’ family of origin, interactions with peers, academic
achievements, and accidents and mishaps.
We examined these narratives along three dimensions: structure,
theme, and content. Structure referred to overall length and level of elabo-
rative detail included on a scale from zero (no elaborative detail) to three
(highly elaborative and detailed). Theme was derived from previous
research on the stories that parents tell their children described above, and
focused on affi liation (scored from 0 for narratives that included no men-
tion of other people to three for narratives that focused explicitly on rela-
tionships) and achievement (again with zero for narratives with no
mention of achievement and three for narratives that focused on working
towards and achieving a specifi c goal). Finally, content referred to internal
state language and included cognitive states (e.g., “My mother knew it was
wrong.”), general affect (e.g., “That was hard on her.”), and specifi c emo-
tion words (e.g., “My dad was happy about that.”). Internal state content
has been conceptualized as an integral part of narrative meaning-making,
in that it expresses evaluation and interpretation of the experience (Fivush
& Baker-Ward, 2005). Further, as already mentioned, there is evidence
that females include more internal state language, and especially more
emotion, in their autobiographical narratives than do males.
Narratives Told About Mothers and Fathers. Intriguingly, we found few
adolescent gender differences in parental intergenerational stories,
but both girls and boys told very different kinds of maternal intergenera-
tional narratives than paternal intergenerational narratives. Maternal inter-
generational narratives were more elaborative (a mean of 1.61 for mothers
and 1.25 for fathers), more affi liative (a mean of 1.44 for mothers and
0.99 for fathers), and contained more general affect (a mean of 1.03 for
mothers and 0.66 for fathers) and specifi c emotion (a mean of 1.02 for
mothers and 0.64 for fathers) than paternal intergenerational narratives,
suggesting that adolescents are telling these stories as they have been told
to them. This further suggests that parental intergenerational narratives
may provide adolescents with one way of understanding gender and
gendered roles. That adolescent males and females tell stories about their
parents’ childhoods that differ by parental gender suggests that adoles-
cents are understanding and propagating the gendered roles their parents
are narratively portraying.
Narratives Told About Self. What might these gendered messages
mean for adolescents’ understanding of self and well-being? In addition to
narratives of their parents’ childhoods, we also asked these same adoles-
cents to tell us narratives about their own personal experiences. Here, we
saw the expected pattern of gender differences, with girls telling more
elaborated (a mean of 1.84 for girls and 1.33 for boys) and more emo-
tional (a mean of 6.18 for girls and 3.20 for boys) narratives than boys.
Interestingly, there were no gender differences in themes of affi liation or
achievement in the adolescents’ personal narratives. Still, this pattern sug-
gests that adolescents are telling their own stories through their own gen-
dered lens, and they are telling their parents’ stories through the gendered
lens of the parent.
Relations Between Intergenerational and Personal Narratives. When we
examine relations between the personal and intergenerational narratives,
girls are telling personal narratives that look very much like their maternal
intergenerational narratives; there are signifi cant correlations on almost
every narrative variable between these two narratives. However, there are
no relations between girls’ personal narratives and their paternal intergen-
erational narratives. For boys, there are no relations between their per-
sonal narratives and either their maternal or paternal intergenerational
narratives. The patterns suggest that girls are mirroring their mothers’ nar-
ratives in constructing their own gendered narratives, but it is not clear
why boys are not mirroring their fathers (see Peterson & Roberts, 2003 for
similar data).
Creating Intergenerational Connections. In collecting these intergener-
ational narratives, a noteworthy fi nding emerged. Many of the adolescents
drew a specifi c intergenerational connection between their parents and
themselves. These connections included mentioning a specifi c parallel
across generations (e.g., “My dad played soccer when he was young, and
that got me started in soccer” or “My mother used to fi ght with her brother
all the time just like I fi ght with my brother.”), reference to life lessons or
values (e.g., “She told me about when she used to smoke so that I wouldn’t
smoke.”) or a reference to the current parent–child relationship (e.g., “and
now my mom and I read together every night” or “My dad still plays bas-
ketball with me every weekend.”). These types of intergenerational con-
nections are similar to what Habermas and de Silveira (2008) have
described as “autobiographical reasoning” within personal narratives,
where adolescents create continuity between multiple individual personal
narratives, and to what McLean and Pratt (2006) have termed “life les-
sons” within personal narratives. The difference is that here, adolescents
are drawing these connections between themselves and their parents’
experiences, not their own previous experiences.
There were no differences by either gender of adolescent or gender of
parent in the occurrence of these connections, but the fact that many ado-
lescents spontaneously made these connections in their intergenerational
narratives seemed important, and we thought it might be related to
whether adolescents were using these narratives in the service of under-
standing themselves.
Perspective-Taking in Intergenerational Narratives. In addition, many
of the adolescents told intergenerational narratives rich in internal state
language, providing information about how their parent thought and felt
about the event. This kind of language suggests that the adolescent is tak-
ing the perspective of the parent in the narrative, and thus using the par-
ent’s experiences as a way of understanding how events in the world
unfold and their consequences, possibly as a way of understanding one’s
own experiences. Thus, we examined relations between the intergenera-
tional connections that adolescents drew in their narratives, their use of
internal state language in these narratives and adolescents’ emotional well-
being, again measured through the CBCL. In this sample, we asked
the mother to report on her child’s behaviors and we also asked the
adolescents to self-report, using the Youth Self-Report, the age-normed
self-report form of the CBCL (YSR; Achenbach & Rescorla, 2001).
Intergenerational Narratives and Well-Being. Correlations were com-
puted between the internal state language and intergenerational connec-
tions in the narratives and both maternal and child reports of well-being
(Zaman & Fivush, 2009). The overall pattern of results indicated that
adolescent males who told maternal intergenerational narratives that
included more perspective-taking and intergenerational connections self-
reported lower levels of externalizing behaviors (rs range from .23 to
.52) and, to a lesser extent, lower levels of internalizing behaviors (rs
range from .21 to .39). There were similar but fewer relations to pater-
nal intergenerational narratives (rs for internalizing behaviors range from
.22 to .28, and externalizing behavior correlated with intergenerational
connections at r = .37). For girls, their self-report of well-being was unre-
lated to either maternal or paternal intergenerational narratives. A differ-
ent picture emerges using maternal reports of adolescent well-being. Here,
girls who included more intergenerational connections and perspective-
taking in their narratives about their mothers’ childhoods showed lower
levels of maternally reported internalizing (rs range from .21 to .39)
and externalizing (rs range from .37 to .50) behaviors, but there were
no relations to paternal intergenerational narratives, nor were there any
relations between maternal reports of adolescent well-being and boys’
intergenerational narratives.
Linking Personal and Intergenerational Narratives. Although interpre-
tations of these patterns are complicated, two things are clear. First, for
female adolescents, there is both a closer link between their personal nar-
ratives and their maternal intergenerational narratives as well as between
their maternal intergenerational narratives and their mothers’ reports of
their well-being. Thus, it seems that when female adolescents take the per-
spective of their mothers, and use maternal intergenerational narratives to
structure their own personal experiences, their mothers report higher lev-
els of adolescent well-being. Second, male adolescents are neither mirror-
ing their parental intergenerational narratives in their own personal
narratives nor is their maternally reported well-being related to their
parental intergenerational narratives. However, boys who show a higher
level of perspective-taking in their maternal and paternal intergenerational
narratives self-report higher well-being.
Constructing Gender and Identity Through Narratives
of the Familial Past
Clearly, future research will need to elucidate these patterns. Most impor-
tant, these initial studies were cross-sectional, and longitudinal research is
critical in elucidating developmental patterns. Still, these fi rst forays into
research on intergenerational narratives and adolescent well-being are pro-
vocative. Family narratives, stories about both the family day and the fam-
ily past, are frequent in everyday interactions, and families that are more
engaged in sharing these stories have adolescents who show higher levels
of emotional well-being. That adolescents are engaged in co-narrating
family stories in everyday interactions suggests that these stories are inter-
esting and important to them. Indeed, adolescents listen to and learn these
stories and are easily able to tell stories about their parental intergenera-
tional past.
Moreover, family narrative interaction is a gendered activity. Mothers
are more engaged in family stories than are fathers, and mothers that con-
tribute more to keeping the family past alive through such stories have
children who show higher levels of emotional well-being. Further, as
would be predicted by Vygotskian theory, children are learning the forms
and function of family stories through participating in daily family interac-
tions. Family stories tell about gendered lives and provide a framework for
understanding the self. Both adolescent males and females tell maternal
intergenerational narratives that are more elaborative, affi liative and emo-
tional, and less achievement oriented, than paternal intergenerational nar-
ratives, suggesting at least one way in which gender is constructed through
narratives and across generations. Further, adolescent girls, at least, seem
to be learning how to tell their own gendered narratives through these
interactions. Adolescent girls are telling narratives similar in structure and
content to their maternal intergenerational narratives, and girls who tell
maternal intergenerational narratives higher in intergenerational connec-
tions and perspective-taking have higher levels of maternally reported
well-being. Although the picture for males is more complicated and awaits
further research, the patterns thus far indicate that adolescents are learn-
ing how to understand themselves at least partly through family stories.
Who we are as individuals emerges in social interactions studded with sto-
ries, stories about ourselves and our families in the past that shape who
we are in the present and in the future.
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ROBYN FIVUSH is the Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Psychology at Emory
University in Atlanta.
JENNIFER G. BOHANEK is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Center for
Developmental Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
WIDAAD ZAMAN is a graduate student in the Department of Psychology at
Emory University in Atlanta.
... In fact, there is now a growing body of evidence indicating that the process of intergenerational transmission of family stories is critical to not just one's identity, but to their mental health (Duke et al., 2008;Fivush et al., 2011;Svob and Brown, 2012;Chen et al., 2021). For instance, past studies have found that young adults who can recall their parents' history of living through conflict, such as violent political upheaval, experience a personal, positive life-changing effect related to their perceived importance and transitional impact when compared to young adults who can recall non-conflict related family history (Svob and Brown, 2012). ...
... For instance, past studies have found that young adults who can recall their parents' history of living through conflict, such as violent political upheaval, experience a personal, positive life-changing effect related to their perceived importance and transitional impact when compared to young adults who can recall non-conflict related family history (Svob and Brown, 2012). Additionally, intergenerational biographical knowledge has been associated with psychological wellbeing as measured on selfreport measures (Duke et al., 2008;Fivush et al., 2011). Studies on family narrative sharing and young adults provide evidence to show that adolescents who know more about their family history tend to have less anxiety, higher self-esteem, more locus of control, better family functioning, and less behavioral problems (Duke et al., 2008). ...
... The link between family background knowledge and psychological wellbeing, particularly amongst younger generations, sheds light on the critical role of intergenerational family narrative sharing on psychological wellbeing (Duke et al., 2008;Fivush et al., 2011). Importantly, recent work suggests that the potential mental health benefits of intergenerational narratives Frontiers in Psychology 03 ...
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Patterns of memory sharing begin early in one’s life, informing relationships, one’s history, and one’s sense of cultural belonging. Memory sharing among families has been the focus of research investigating the relationship between mental health and intergenerational memory. A burgeoning body of research is showing that intergenerational knowledge of one’s family history is associated with positive mental health and wellbeing. However, research on the specific mechanisms and potential applications of such findings are just beginning to emerge. In particular, studies examining intergenerational storytelling point to the importance of culture and gender as critical factors underlying how stories are told and the extent to which these stories are associated with wellbeing. Such findings hold important promise for the pentation and treatment of mental health issues. As research in this area continues to evolve, the identification and characterization of factors and mechanisms underlying intergenerational family stories and wellbeing may help to guide the integration of family stories into mental health interventions.
... Sense making refers to developing a coherent understanding of how and why an event occurred; benefit finding refers to discovering unexpected, positive consequences of an event; and identity change refers to how an individual's sense of self is changed by an event. Previous research has shown that adults who engage in self-reflective narration demonstrate better physical and mental health (Frattaroli, 2006;Pennebaker & Chung, 2007), indicating that meaning-making could play an important role in emotion regulation (Fivush et al., 2011). These processes expand on Janoff-Bulman and Frantz's (1996) conceptualization of meaningmaking in trauma, which focus on comprehensibility (i.e., sense making) and significance (e.g., benefit finding, identity change). ...
... Researchers have used family narratives to illuminate how individuals define themselves in the context of family transitions. Couples' shared stories can shape their understanding of family dynamics and reflect how individuals construct meaning from family experiences (Fivush et al., 2011;Grotevant et al., 1999). However, childbirth narratives have received surprisingly little formal attention. ...
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The present study investigated how meaning-making around a birth experience predicts relationship quality and parenting stress across the transition to first-time parenthood, a time that many new parents find stressful and challenging. Childbirth experiences may set the stage for these challenges, and how new parents make meaning of childbirth could play a role in their subsequent postpartum adjustment. Meaning-making processes (sense making, benefit finding, and changes in identity) were coded from birth narratives collected from 77 mixed-sex biological parent dyads (n = 154 individuals) shortly after the birth of their first child. Parents reported on their relationship quality during pregnancy and at 6 months postpartum, and on their parenting stress postpartum. Mothers' greater sense making and benefit finding buffered longitudinal declines in their own relationship quality, and maternal sense making also buffered declines for fathers. Fathers' greater sense making and benefit finding predicted lower levels of their own parenting stress, whereas mothers' greater sense making and benefit finding were linked with higher paternal parenting stress. Finally, fathers' discussion of changes in identity predicted lower levels of parenting stress in mothers. These results suggest the importance of meaning-making following childbirth for couples adjusting to parenthood and highlight the value of studying meaning-making processes dyadically. Clinicians may be able to support new parents by facilitating their coconstruction of meaning during their shared birth experience and transition to parenthood. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2023 APA, all rights reserved).
... Specifically, the autobiographical narrative memory, in its constitution as a process, favors: the definition of the self, both in an absolute sense and in relation to others, and the emotional regulation of experiences, contributing, in the latter case, to the maintenance of psychological and physical well-being [34,[44][45][46]. Some memories of events lived in one's existential experience represent essential elements to define who we are; our self, in fact, is shaped by the way in which we manage to remember and reconstruct old experiences, as, by narrating our past, we also narrate about ourselves at the same time [44][45][46][47]. Through the narrative act, people try to weave a common thread between the different memories, which often can appear disconnected, so that they can be configured in a life story and, at the same time, outline a narrative identity; both the life story and the narrative identity contribute, therefore, to a sense of self in the world and in time, with respect to the past, and in the perspective of the future, to find a continuity even in moments of transition [42,[44][45][46][47][48][49][50][51][52][53]. ...
... Some memories of events lived in one's existential experience represent essential elements to define who we are; our self, in fact, is shaped by the way in which we manage to remember and reconstruct old experiences, as, by narrating our past, we also narrate about ourselves at the same time [44][45][46][47]. Through the narrative act, people try to weave a common thread between the different memories, which often can appear disconnected, so that they can be configured in a life story and, at the same time, outline a narrative identity; both the life story and the narrative identity contribute, therefore, to a sense of self in the world and in time, with respect to the past, and in the perspective of the future, to find a continuity even in moments of transition [42,[44][45][46][47][48][49][50][51][52][53]. ...
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Breast cancer (BC) in younger age is a critical and potentially traumatic experience that can interrupt the continuity of self-narrative during a crucial phase. In the Narrative Identity framework the translation of memories into autobiographical narratives is an internal and external process that plays a key role in meaning-making, social relationships and self-coherence. The aim of this study is to examine the role and function that autobiographical memory narratives (AMN) play in the process of adaptation to BC medical treatment. Seventeen BC women below 50 years received prompts to provide autobiographical memory narratives at four phases during their treatment (pre-hospitalization-T1-post-surgery-T2-chemo-radio therapy-T3-follow-up-T4). The Emotional Processing Scale (EPS) was also administered. In all, 68 AMN were collected. A three step procedure of data analysis was conducted. The first one, an empirically-derived memory coding manual to analyze key dimensions of AMN was developed: Agency; Emotional Regulation and Interpersonal Relations. Findings show a particular vulnerability in narrative identity faced by BC women during the shift from T1-T3. In the second one, an emotional coping profile for each woman focusing on the shift from T1-T3 was created. For the third step, these profiles were compared with the EPS scores. The final results suggest the capacity of the AMNs to differentiate the women’s emotional adaptation over the course of the BC treatment. Despite the study’s limitations, it supports the use of AMN as clinical device to construct a deeper knowledge and profiling trajectory of how women have internalized and elaborated past encounters with illness and help providers, as well as their prior experience of bodily/psychological health and integrity. This information adds to an understanding of their current efforts at recovery and adaptation. In this way we believe that the recollection of narrative memories, not only at the end of the cancer treatment but also during its process, could help the women to mend the broken continuity of their narrative self, as they seek to maintain a healthy balance of internal resources across their past, present, and projected future.
... Specifically, there is a rich literature showing that family stories are an important mechanism for well-being. 11,12,13,14 As noted by Fivush, Bohanek, and Duke (2008), learning about others through stories helps us in two ways: "First, incorporating others' perspectives on those experiences enriches understanding of our own past experiences; when we share experiences in reminiscing, we construct a more nuanced and more subjective perspective on our own past. Second, and perhaps more intriguing, hearing the experiences of others changes our perspective of our self. ...
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Prior research suggests that knowledge of one’s family is correlated with, but does not produce, psychological well-being. We test this conjecture, by examining whether participating in family history research (i.e., genealogical research) is associated with psychological well-being above and beyond the effects of knowledge of one’s family, documented in prior research. To test this, we examine whether students enrolled in a university level family history course, improve in family identification, selfesteem, anxiety, resilience, and locus of control more than a control sample. For students enrolled in the family history course, we find an increase in family identification, which in turn leads to improvements in each of these areas of psychological wellbeing. Direct effects of being in the family history course show improvements in selfesteem of 8% and reductions in anxiety of 20%. In follow-up tests we examine which aspects of genealogical research are associated with measures of psychological wellbeing and find that researching genealogical records (e.g., examining census records) is associated with greater self-esteem and reduced anxiety but that posting memories about families and expanding one’s family tree do not have the same relation with measures of psychological well-being.
... Autobiographical memory has also been linked to healthy development and well-being (Fivush et al., 2010;McAdams, 1996). Waters (2014) found that individuals who reported using their memories to fulfil self, social, and directive goals also reported greater life purpose, communion, and positive relationships, highlighting the importance of memory recall to psychological wellbeing. ...
Conversational remembering, or sharing autobiographical memories with others, occurs frequently in everyday communication. The current project examined how the experience of shared reality with a conversation partner when describing autobiographical memories to them can operate to enhance the self, social, and directive uses of a recalled memory and explored the role of shared reality experienced as a result of conversational remembering in psychological well-being. In this project, conversational remembering was examined using experimental (Study 1) and daily diary (Study 2) methodologies. Results indicated that experiencing a shared reality during conversational remembering of an autobiographical memory enhanced self, social, and directive memory goal fulfilment and was positively associated with greater psychological well-being. The current investigation highlights important benefits of sharing our life stories with others, especially those with whom we develop a sense of shared reality.
... Šie stāsti ir īpaši svarīgi pusaudža gados, kad identitātes un emocionālā regulējuma jautājumi kļūst par galvenajiem. Ir pierādījumi, ka pusaudžiem, kuriem stāsta paaudžu stāstus, kas ir bagāti ar starppaaudžu saiknēm un perspektīvu, ir augstāks dzīvesspēka līmenis (Fivush, Bohanek & Zaman, 2011). Tas, iepējams, ir saistīts ar sociālajiem procesiem, kas notiek ģimenēs, kuras stāsta par dzimtas vēsturi dažādos ikdienas rituālos un ģimenes tradīcijās . ...
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The aim of the present study was to examine the relationships between family history knowledge, identity style and resilience of 16–19 year old adolescents. Participating in the study were 110 adolescents (75% female, 25% male), ages 16–19 year (M = 17,62; SD = 1,23). They completed the Do You Know scale (Duke, Lazarus & Fivush, 2008), the Identity Style Inventory (Berzonsky, 1992) and the Resilience Scale for Adults (Friborg et al., 2005). The results showed positive associations between knowledge of family history and informational, normative identity style and resilience; and negative association with diffuse identyty style. Knowledge of family history predicted identity style and resilience, with the exception of the social resource factor ratings. Relationships with mother predicted the resilience factors of self-perception, family cohesion and social resources. The internal resource factor of resilience provided partial mediation between knowledge of family history and informative identity style.
Hearing impairment affects many older adults but is often diagnosed decades after speech comprehension in noisy situations has become effortful. Accurate assessment of listening effort may thus help diagnose hearing impairment earlier. However, pupillometry – the most used approach to assess listening effort – has limitations that hinder its use in practice. The current study explores a novel way to assess listening effort through eye movements. Building on cognitive and neurophysiological work, we examine the hypothesis that eye movements decrease when speech listening becomes challenging. In three experiments with human participants from both sexes, we demonstrate, consistent with this hypothesis, that fixation duration increases and spatial gaze dispersion decreases with increasing speech masking. Eye movements decreased during effortful speech listening for different visual scenes (free viewing; object tracking) and speech materials (simple sentences; naturalistic stories). In contrast, pupillometry was less sensitive to speech masking during story listening, suggesting pupillometric measures may not be as effective for the assessments of listening effort in naturalistic speech-listening paradigms. Our results reveal a critical link between eye movements and cognitive load, suggesting that neural activity in the brain regions that support the regulation of eye movements, such as frontal eye field and superior colliculus, are modulated when listening is effortful. Significance statement Assessment of listening effort is critical for early diagnosis of age-related hearing loss. Pupillometry is most used but has several disadvantages. The current study explores a novel way to assess listening effort through eye movements. We examine the hypothesis that eye movements decrease when speech listening becomes effortful. We demonstrate, consistent with this hypothesis, that fixation duration increases and gaze dispersion decreases with increasing speech masking. Eye movements decreased during effortful speech listening for different visual scenes (free viewing; object tracking) and speech materials (sentences; naturalistic stories). Our results reveal a critical link between eye movements and cognitive load, suggesting that neural activity in brain regions that support the regulation of eye movements are modulated when listening is effortful.
Though it is generally acknowledged that parents are directly implicated in how and what their children learn about right and wrong, little is known about how the process of moral socialization proceeds in the context of family life, and how it gets played out in actual parent-child conversations. This volume brings together psychological research conducted in different countries documenting how parents and their children of different ages talk about everyday issues that bear on right and wrong. More than 150 excerpts from real parent-child conversations about children's own good and bad behaviors and about broader ethical concerns that interest both parents and children, such as global warming or gender equality, provide a unique window into the moral-socialization process in action. Talking about Right and Wrong also underscores distinct psychological and sociocultural processes that explain how such everyday conversations may further, or hinder, children's moral development.
One objective of this study was to obtain the psychological functioning profile of adolescents involved in youth-to-parent aggression (YPA) situations, as well as their family functioning, analyzing variables that had not received empirical attention, such as emotional intelligence, parental criticism, the parent-to-child bond, or knowledge of family history. Another objective was to explore which predictors related to adolescent characteristics, parenting and family functioning were most useful for discriminating between YPA and non-YPA groups. Participants were two equivalent groups (one from a family therapy center specializing in the treatment of YPA and a group from the general population), with a total of 133 adolescents and 256 parents. Regarding the psychological functioning of adolescents, the results indicated low emotion regulation and anxious-depressive symptomatology of adolescents involved in YPA. The parenting style was characterized by high overprotection and low care. However, family criticism (AUC = .828) was identified as the best predictor of YPA, with the capacity to discriminate between YPA and non-YPA groups. Families involved in YPA may have a rigid disengaged family functioning and affectionless-controlling parenting style. The central role of family criticism in YPA was unknown. The current study contributes to the literature by showing the need for individual psychological treatment and family therapy of all members of the family as a whole involved in YPA, not just the adolescent aggressors.
This book brings a surprisingly wide range of intellectual disciplines to bear on the self-narrative and the self. The same ecological/cognitive approach that successfully organized Ulric Neisser's earlier volume on The Perceived Self now relates ideas from the experimental, developmental, and clinical study of memory to insights from post-modernism and literature. Although autobiographical remembering is an essential way of giving meaning to our lives, the memories we construct are never fully consistent and often simply wrong. In the first chapter, Neisser considers the so-called 'false memory syndrome' in this context; other contributors discuss the effects of amnesia, the development of remembering in childhood, the social construction of memory and its alleged self-servingness, and the contrast between literary and psychological models of the self. Jerome Bruner, Peggy Miller, Alan Baddeley, Kenneth Gergen and Daniel Albright are among the contributors to this unusual synthesis.
This chapter presents an overview of the concepts of representation in cognitive psychology and developmental psychology It then discusses theories based on levels of representation and their development in childhood The chapter begins with the function of representation in human cognition as conceptualized by cognitive psychologist and psycholinguist George Miller, who declared that language serves the representational function for humans that is otherwise served for non-language creatures But it leaves open the question of how-if at all-representation is managed by nonhumans or by nonlanguage using humans, such as pre-linguistic infants and very young children These questions reflect contentious issues in cognitive science based on different computational models of symbolic processing and neural network processing Specific alleged domains such as space, number, object knowledge, and theory of mind are integrated in the knowledge structures of the early years and serve as background to the pragmatics of everyday life, organized in terms of domains of practice © 2006 by Ellen Bialystok, Fergus I.M. Craik. All rights reserved.
The question of how well children recall and can discuss emotional experiences is one with numerous theoretical and applied implications. Theoretically, the role of emotions generally and emotional distress specifically in children's emerging cognitive abilities has implications for understanding how children attend to and process information, how children react to emotional information, and how that information affects their development and functioning over time. Practically speaking, increasing numbers of children have been involved in legal settings as victims or witnesses to violence, highlighting the need to determine the extent to which children's eyewitness reports of traumatic experiences are accurate and complete. In clinical contexts, the ability to narrate emotional events is emerging as a significant predictor of psychological outcomes. How children learn to describe emotional experiences and the extent to which they can do so coherently thus has important implications for clinical interventions.