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Continuity and Change in the Life Story: A Longitudinal Study of Autobiographical Memories in Emerging Adulthood

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If a person's internalized and evolving life story (narrative identity) is to be considered an integral feature of personality itself, then aspects of that story should manifest some continuity over time while also providing evidence regarding important personality change. Accordingly, college freshmen and seniors provided detailed written accounts of 10 key scenes in their life stories, and they repeated the same procedure 3 months and then 3 years later. The accounts were content analyzed for reliable narrative indices employed in previous studies of life stories: emotional tone, motivational themes (agency, communion, personal growth), and narrative complexity. The results showed substantial continuity over time for narrative complexity and positive (vs. negative) emotional tone and moderate but still significant continuity for themes of agency and growth. In addition, emerging adults (1) constructed more emotionally positive stories and showed (2) greater levels of emotional nuance and self-differentiation and (3) greater understanding of their own personal development in the 4th year of the study compared to the 1st year. The study is the first to demonstrate both temporal continuity and developmental change in narrative identity over time in a broad sampling of personally meaningful life-story scenes.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Northwestern University 2: Northern Arizona University

Publication date: 2006-10-01

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