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How Stable Is the Personal Past?
This research observed how life stories develop throughout the lifespan.
Posted Nov 09, 2017
Christin Köber Ph.D.
Psychology Today © 1991-2017 Sussex Publishers, LLC
HealthProfs.com © 2002-2017 Sussex Directories, Inc.

MADG: Note that Psychology Today is not a scientific journal. This editorial (blog-post) presents the opinions of the author.

Source; excerpts follow:


Have you ever wondered what your life story would look like if you told it several times, at different moments in your life? Which life events would you keep in or leave out? And for what reasons?

According to narrative psychology, a person's life story is not a mere chronicle of the facts and events of a life, but rather the way a person picks apart or weaves together those facts and events internally to create personal meaning. This narrative becomes a form of narrative identity, in which the experiences people choose to include in the story, and the way they tell it, can both reflect and shape who they are.

… Altogether, we had 523 entire life narratives, told throughout eight years but with different time intervals (Figure 1). To detect their stability, we compared which events were related repeatedly and which were not. Further, we analyzed whether normative events that biological development makes happen or that society expects to happen at a certain age—such as high-school graduation, first kiss, or wedding—would actually be more stable than idiosyncratic events, such as traveling.

We found that stability of life narratives decreases the longer the time span between two interviews, but increases with age…

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The author mentions Narrative Psychology:


Narrative psychology is a perspective within psychology concerned with the "storied nature of human conduct",[1] that is, how human beings deal with experience by observing stories and listening to the stories of others. Operating under the assumption that human activity and experience are filled with "meaning" and stories, rather than logical arguments or lawful formulations, narrative psychology is the study of how human beings construct stories to deal with experiences.

I am not familiar with narrative psychology but I have done some reading about how the human brain saves and recalls memories. "Short term memory" is a LOT shorter than many people realize; it's measured in seconds (say 15-30 seconds). Then, depending on circumstances (especially significance to the observer), the brain "moves" this into Long Term Memory.

Recall is very interesting: When you later try to recall a memory, it's not like replaying an internal recording of what happened. Instead, the brain gathers up pieces of the memory and reconstructs it. This reconstruction process can be virtually instantaneous, yet is highly subject to personal bias. The primacy and "flavor" of the components change over time. Indeed, some are subsequently under- or -over emphasized, switched with components from other memories, dropped completely, or even replaced with fantastical elements. And since it's the brain "telling" us that this is the memory, we have no idea that it's changed.

Ironically, firsthand witness testimony is given credence in court, even though it's extraordinarily unreliable.

I'm interested in reading more about the 2003 longitudinal study referenced by the author. She notes that parts of the "life narratives" were subsequently excluded, but doesn't mention how often they were remembered differently.

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