Variation in narrative identity is associated with trajectories of mental health over several years

Jonathan M. Adler*, Ariana F. Turner, Kathryn M. Brookshier, Casey Monahan, Ilana Walder-Biesanz, Luke H. Harmeling, Michelle Albaugh, Dan P. McAdams, Thomas F. Oltmanns

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations

Abstract

This article presents 2 longitudinal studies designed to assess the relationship between variability in narrative identity and trajectories of mental health over several years. In Study 1, core scenes from 89 late-mid-life adults' life stories were assessed for several narrative themes. Participants' mental health and physical health were assessed concurrently with the narratives and annually for the subsequent 4 years. Concurrent analyses indicated that the themes of agency, redemption, and contamination were significantly associated with mental health. Longitudinal analyses indicated that these same 3 themes were significantly associated with participants' trajectories of mental health over the course of 4 years. Exploratory analyses indicated that narratives of challenging experiences may be central to this pattern of results. In Study 2, similar longitudinal analyses were conducted on a sample of 27 late-mid-life adults who received a major physical illness diagnosis between the baseline assessment and 6 months later and a matched sample of 27 control participants who remained healthy throughout the study. Participants' mental health and physical health were assessed every 6 months for 2 years. In this study, the themes of agency, communion, redemption, and contamination in participants' life narratives collected at baseline (before any participant became sick) were significantly associated with mental health in the group of participants who went on to receive a medical diagnosis, but not in the control group. Taken together, the results of these 2 studies indicate that the way an individual constructs personal narratives may impact his or her trajectory of mental health over time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)476-496
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Volume108
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 1 2015

Keywords

  • Agency
  • Communion
  • Contamination
  • Health
  • Narrative identity
  • Redemption

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science

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