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What Is Narrative Psychology?

by Adam Jefferys, Demand Media
    Narrative psychologists focus on how we create meaning through the stories we tell.

    Narrative psychologists focus on how we create meaning through the stories we tell.

    Narrative psychology is a perspective or focus within psychology, rather than a separate discipline. Psychologists interested in narrative study how human beings create meaning from experiences by portraying themselves as protagonists in stories. Narrative psychologists believe that stories, rather than logical arguments, are the primary means by which we communicate meaning and values, according to the Psychology Department at Le Moyne College in New York.

    History

    Though many of the basic ideas of narrative psychology originated in the early 20th century, particularly in Henry Alexander Murray’s “Explorations in Personality,” narrative psychology did not emerge as a distinct field until the 1980s and 1990s. Foundational figures during this period include Thomas Sabine, author of “Literary Pathfinding,” and Jerome Bruner, author of “The Narrative Construction of Reality.” Currently, narrative psychology is an established perspective within the broader field of psychology, since its methods gained wide acceptance in psychology journals and universities, according to the website Psychology Degree.net.

    Our Affinity for Stories

    Researchers in the field of narrative psychology found that people have a natural affinity for stories. We learn facts better if they are part of a story rather than in a list, and we find legal arguments more convincing if they are in narrative form rather than based on legal precedent. Interestingly, however, people generally do not see themselves as part of an overall story until they are in their late teens -- younger children tend to see themselves in terms of a collection of stable traits, states author Benedict Carey in the article, "This is Your Life (and How You Tell It)," published on the "The New York Times" website.

    Methodology

    Narrative psychologists focus on qualitative methods, such as the life story interview, rather than relying solely on quantitative methods, such as surveys or questionnaires. During the life story interview, subjects describe their lives from childhood through adulthood. They describe certain scenes -- “high points,” “low points” and “turning points” -- in detail. The researcher records and transcribes the interview, which typically lasts about two hours. Researchers then analyze these interviews for patterns and connections between subjects' lives and the stories they tell, states the website of the Le Moyne College Psychology Department.

    How We Tell Our Stories

    How we tell the stories about ourselves can be as important as the content of the stories. Researchers have found that adults with mood problems often have many positive memories, but in relaying these, the stories generally end with some negative detail or disappointment. On the other hand, adults who score high on tests measuring civic-mindedness and who are more likely to be energetic and well adjusted, tend to tell “stories of redemption,” beginning with a negative event that they later overcome, according to Carey.

    Style Your World With Color

    About the Author

    Based in Chicago, Adam Jefferys has been writing since 2007. He teaches college writing and literature, and has tutored students in ESL. He holds a Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing, and is currently completing a PhD in English Studies.

    Photo Credits

    • Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images

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