The life narrative at midlife

Dan P. Mcadams*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


In a remarkably prescient chapter, Bertram Cohler (1982) reimagined the problems and the potentialities of psychological development across the life course as a distinctively human challenge in life narration. This chapter situates Cohler's original vision within the intellectual and scientific matrix of the late 1970s, wherein psychologists expressed grave doubts about the extent to which human lives may demonstrate consistency and coherence. By focusing attention on human beings as autobiographical authors rather than as mere social actors or motivated agents, Cohler moved the conversation away from dispositional personality traits and developmental stages and toward the emerging concept of narrative identity. Over the past 30 years, research on narrative identity has shown how people use stories to integrate the reconstructed past and imagined future, providing their lives with some semblance of unity, purpose, and meaning. At midlife, many adults struggle to solve the problem of generativity, aiming to leave a positive legacy for the next generation. Inspired by Cohler's original chapter, contemporary research reveals that the most generative adults in American society tend to construe their lives as narratives of personal redemption. As such, life stories may serve as valuable psychological resources for midlife adults, even as they reflect and refract prevailing cultural themes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)57-69
Number of pages13
JournalNew Directions for Child and Adolescent Development
Issue number145
StatePublished - Sep 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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