Emerging from the CAVE: Attributional style and the narrative study of identity in midlife adults

Jonathan M. Adler*, Emily C. Kissel, Dan P. McAdams

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Scopus citations


It has been widely documented that individuals who explain negative life events with a depressogenic attributional style (stable, global attributions) tend to have increased rates of depression and other poor outcomes (e.g., Sweeny, Anderson, & Bailey, 1986). The Content Analysis of Verbatim Explanations (CAVE) is a method of assessing attributional style in spontaneously-generated causal attributions appearing in accounts of real events (Peterson, Schulman, Castellon, & Seligman, 1992). Seventy life story interviews obtained from a diverse community sample of midlife adults were coded for attributional style with the CAVE technique and also for the theme of contamination (scenes in which good events turn to bad outcomes, McAdams, Reynolds, Lewis, Patten, & Bowman, 2001). While depressogenic attributional style and contamination sequences were unrelated to each other, both were shown to independently predict self-reported depression and low life satisfaction. In addition, while the observed relationships between depressogenic attributional style and these self-report variables were no longer significant after controlling for neuroticism, a similar pattern was not observed for contamination sequences. This study forges possible connections between cognitive theories of depression and the narrative study of adult identity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39-51
Number of pages13
JournalCognitive Therapy and Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2006


  • Attributional style
  • CAVE
  • Contamination sequences
  • Narrative

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology


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