“First we invented stories, then they changed us”: The Evolution of Narrative Identity

Dan P. McAdams*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


An integrative psychological concept that bridges the sciences and humanities, narrative identity is the internalized and evolving story a person invents to explain how he or she has become the person he or she is becoming. Combining the selective reconstruction of the past with an imagined anticipated future, narrative identity provides human lives with a sense of unity, moral purpose, and temporal coherence. In this article, I discuss how the evolution of human storytelling provides the basic tools for constructing self-defining life narratives. I then consider theory and research on the development of narrative identity over the human life course, socially consequential variations in narrative identity, and how culture shapes the stories people tell about themselves. My overall perspective on narrative identity was formulated within the fields of personality and developmental psychology, but it is also informed by concepts and constructs in evolutionary biology, cognitive neuroscience, philosophy, and literary studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalEvolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2019


  • Agency
  • Autobiographical memory
  • Culture
  • Episodic future thought
  • Evolution
  • Narrative identity
  • Psychological development
  • Sociality
  • Stories
  • Theory of mind

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)
  • Communication
  • Cultural Studies


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