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The Development of the Temporal Macrostructure of Life Narratives Across Adolescence: Beginnings, Linear Narrative Form, and Endings

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  • This article is based on data from a study on the development of life narratives that was supported by the German Research Council (DFG), grant #HA 2077. We thank the children and adolescents, teachers, and directors of the Comenius Grundschule and the Bettina Gymnasium, Frankfurt, for their participation and kind support. Thanks also go to Verena Diel and Martha Havenith, who collected the data with the third author, for data entry Andreas Fröhlich, Helge Hachenberg, Michael Schreiner, Claudius Stauffenberg, Fiona Bonzelius, and Leonie Koske. The coding of beginnings and endings is based on the master's thesis of the second author; the coding of anachronies was done by Claudius Stauffenberg and Jennifer Bannert. We thank Giulia Angelini and Anna Kenney for helpful suggestions on the manuscript.

concerning this article should be addressed to the Department of Psychology, Goethe University, PO Box 111932, 60054 Frankfurt a.M., Germany. E-mail: psychoanalyse@psych.uni-frankfurt.de.

Abstract

ABSTRACT The ontogeny of the ability to describe people culminates in adolescence in the development of the life story. An overarching temporal macrostructure and framing by a prehistory and a future-oriented global evaluation of life helps integrate disparate autobiographical memories into a coherent story. Two life narratives each of 8-, 12-, 16-, and 20-year-olds (N=102) were analyzed in terms of how well-formed their beginnings and endings are and how much they follow a linear temporal order. By age 12, the majority of life narratives began with birth, ended in the present, and followed a chronological order. In late adolescence and early adulthood, more elaborate birth narratives and retrospective evaluations of life and outlooks into the future were added. These formal characteristics were related to biographical practices, biographical knowledge, and fluid intelligence. Text-analytical methods are proposed as a method for the analysis of biographical and autobiographical reasoning and understanding.

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