Post 1: Abstract

How does gender impact autobiographical memory and inform the way we speak to others about personal experiences? This summer, I will be accepting an opportunity to conduct research alongside Dr. Robyn Fivush, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Psychology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, to learn the theories and methods of narrative analysis, and begin an independent project examining gender and narratives from mid-June until mid-August. Studying autobiographical memory allows researchers to make connections between the internal neural context of the subject and external sociocultural context surrounding the memory being recalled. In looking at the individual’s subjective interpretation of an objective event, researchers can assess the mental health of patients, and can use self-perception as a tool for psychotherapy clients (Alder et. al, 2017). A psychologist could, for example, predict a recovering alcoholics likelihood for success maintaining sobriety based on their autobiographical narrative (Dunlop & Tracy, 2013). Each narrative, then, is an essential part of identity and a necessity for development (McLean, Pasupathi, & Pals, 2007). If researchers were to neglect the self-reported narratives, they would lose access to personal voices and the sociocultural perspective each participant (Fivush, 2010). Those sociocultural contexts are further informed by gender, particularly as they relate to career and family choices (Ottsen & Bernsten, 2014). Life scripts become prescriptive, and gender, accordingly, informs the choices that should be most valued (Fivush, 2010). Males hear “John Wayne” stories, which place value on autonomy, strength and control; females more often hear “Florence Nightingale” stories, which focus on compassion and caregiving. Individuals, then, internalize gendered stereotypes and reify them through lived experiences (Fivush & Martin, in preparation). Taking time to understand gendered narratives allows researchers the ability to evaluate the benefits and detriments of gender on autobiographical memory.

Well known for her work on autobiographical memory, parent-child storytelling, and identity, Dr. Fivush offers a unique foundation, upon which I can develop my own research interests. I will have access to several large narrative data sets that Dr. Fivush has collected over the last decade to explore questions on autobiographical memory as it relates to gender and identity. I will learn methods of narrative analysis initially through assisting on an ongoing research project, which explores personal growth expressed in narratives of challenging experiences. In this dataset, individuals describe a time when they hurt a close relationship partner and where they were hurt by a close relationship partner, and narrative coding examines how those narratives reflect personal-growth, self-acceptance, and self-compassion. The findings of this study will provide a strong foundation for additional studies on mechanisms of growth as they relate to flourishing and compassion (Booker & Fivush, in preparation). Data for Dr. Fivush’s current research includes samples from both the population of emerging adults at Emory University and emerging adult communities beyond the college demographic, which is important because it gives greater weight and generalizability to the result of the study. To complete the study, we will use transcribed data to create a coding system to categorize and analyze the collected data. The study will be primarily qualitative. I will be working alongside Dr. Fivush’s graduate and post-graduate students to help complete that study by the end of the summer.

While assisting on this project, I will work in collaboration with Dr. Fivush to fully form my own research project, which I plan to continue at William & Mary through an honors thesis. My interest lies in exploring autobiographical memory and gender. Specifically, I plan to look at cultural narratives surrounding gender – what does it mean to be male or female? How are males and females socialized to tell personal narratives in different ways when discussing themselves and topics related to personal growth? How does that socialization change across different populations?

At the end of the summer, I will have a poster on my work ready for both the Summer Research Showcase, and for presentation at an international psychology conference, such as the Society for Research in Child Development, or the Association for Psychological Science meetings, in the spring and summer of 2019. My hope is that this experience will introduce me to new facets of emotion development and regulation to include narrative analysis and issues of gender, and solidify my area of specialization and research as I move forward in my undergraduate career and into graduate school.


Adler, J. M., Dunlop, W. L., Fivush, R., Lilgendahl, J. P., Lodi-Smith, J., Mcadams, D. P., . . . Syed, M. (2017). Research methods for studying narrative identity. Social Psychological and Personality Sciences, 8(5), 519-527. doi:10.1177/1948550617698202

Booker, J., & Fivush, R. (In preparation). Narrative displays of personal growth and well-being among college and community adults.

Dunlop, W. L., & Tracy, J. L. (2013). Sobering stories: Narratives of self-redemption predict behavioral change and improved health among recovered alcoholics. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104, 576–590.

Fivush, R. (2010). Speaking silence: The social construction of voice and silence in cultural and autobiographical narratives. Memory, 18, 88–98.

Fivush, R., & Martin, K. (In preparation). The development of a gendered narrative identity.

McLean, K. C., Pasupathi, M., & Pals, J. L. (2007). Selves creating stories creating selves: A process model of narrative self development in adolescence and adulthood. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 11, 262–278.

Ottsen, C. L., & Berntsen, D. (2014). The cultural life script of Qatar and across cultures: Effects of gender and religion. Memory, 22(4), 390-407.