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When Remembering Is Not Enough: Reflecting on Self-Defining Memories in Late Adolescence


  • Avril Thorne, Kate C. McLean, and Amy M. Lawrence, Department of Psychology, University of California, Santa Cruz.
    We are grateful to Stefan Esposito for his thoughtful reliability coding of the narratives, Alison Comish Thorne for reminding us about Mumford's reflections, and Jefferson Singer, Abril Torres, and an anonymous reviewer for insightful comments on a prior draft.

Preparation of this manuscript was supported in part by a training grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (5 T32 M20025-03) to the second author. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Avril Thorne, Department of Psychology, 277 Social Sciences 2, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA, 95064. Electronic mail may be sent to


Abstract This study examined which kinds of self-defining memories show spontaneous references to larger meanings, and listener responses to two kinds of meaning—lessons and insights. Narratives of three self-defining memories and episodes of telling the memories to others were collected from each of 168 late adolescents (M age=19). Narratives were coded for event type (relationship, mortality, achievement, and leisure) and for references to tension and to meaning (lesson or insight). Narratives of memorable episodes of having told the memories to others were coded for listener response (positive or negative). References to meaning emerged in one-fourth of the memory narratives, and meaning was more common for self-defining memory narratives that contained references to tension. Memories that reportedly had not been told to others in the past showed the same proportion of meaning as did memories that had been told to others (23%), with insights more prevalent than lessons. For memories that had been told to others, insights were more likely to be accepted by listeners than lessons. Implications were discussed for understanding the development of meaning in self-defining memories and the collaborative construction of identity.