Post 1: Abstract

People turn to personal narratives when other aspects of identity are weakening as a way to increase a sense of self (Fivush, 2018). To that end, narrative meaning-making has been shown to unlock a deeper, more contextualized layer of personality than simply a person’s traits and lasting goals, which are shaped by the different roles and experiences from participants’ life stories (Booker et al., 2018; Bluck & Habermas, 2001; McAdams, 1995). Particularly, when an individual is able to create meaning from an event that was difficult or jarring, it can serve as a way to solidify their sense of self (Pals, 2006; Habermas & Köber, 2015; Booker et al., 2018). When young adults acknowledge their growth from adversity, they are able to take the time to healthily process events and transgressions that have occurred and move beyond any lasting hardships an event may have created (Baumeister, Stillwell, & Heatherton, 1994; Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2004; Pals, 2006; Pasupathi, Staudinger, & Baltes, 2001). It follows that engaging in autobiographical reasoning is a crucial part of reasoning out the life story and creating an identity (Banks & Salmon, 2013).

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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.

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