When bad things turn good and good things turn bad: Sequences of redemption and contamination in life narrative and then-relation to psychosocial adaptation in midlife adults and in students

Dan P McAdams*, Jeffrey Reynolds, Martha Lewis, Allison H. Patten, Phillip J. Bowman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

397 Scopus citations


Midlife adults (age 35 to 65) and college undergraduates provided lengthy, open-ended narrative accounts of personally meaningful episodes from the past, such as life-story high points, low points, turning points, and earliest memories. The oral (adult) and written (student) narratives were coded for redemption and contamination imagery. In the midlife sample, adults scoring high on self-report measures of generativity showed significantly higher levels of redemption and lower levels of contamination sequences. In both samples, redemption sequences in life narrative accounts were positively associated with self-report measures of psychological well-being, whereas contamination sequences predicted low levels of well-being among midlife adults. In addition, redemption sequence scores were a stronger predictor of well-being than were ratings of the overall affective quality of life-narrative accounts. The results are discussed with respect to the empirical literature of benefit-finding in the face of adversity and in the context of the recent upsurge of interest in the collection and interpretation of life narratives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)474-485
Number of pages12
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 1 2001


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology

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