Narrative psychology

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Narrative psychology is a perspective in 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 dentests or lawful formulations, narrative psychology is the study of how human beings construct stories to deal with experiences.


The word narrative is used as a specific method. It is a method of articulating life experiences in a meaningful way.[2] Narrative psychology is not a single or well-defined theory. It refers to a range of approaches to stories in human life and thought.[3] In narrative psychology, a person's life story becomes a form of identity as how they choose to reflect on, integrate and tell the facts and events of their life not only reflects, but also shapes, who they are.[4] It is a social constructivist approach that studies the implications of these stories for individuals and societies.[5]


Psychologists became interested in stories and everyday accounts of life in the 1970s. The term narrative psychology was introduced by Theodore R. Sarbin in his 1986 book Narrative Psychology: The storied nature of human conduct[1] in which he claimed that human conduct is best explained through stories and that this explanation should be done through qualitative research.[6] Sarbin argued that "narrative" is a root metaphor for psychology that should replace the mechanistic and organic metaphors which shaped so much theory and research in the discipline over the past century.[1]

Jerome Bruner explored the "narrative kind of knowing" in a more empirical way in his 1986 book Actual Minds, Possible Worlds.[7] Bruner makes a distinction between "paradigmatic" and "narrative" forms of thought, proposing that they are both fundamental but irreducible to one another.[8] The narrative approach was also furthered by Dan P. McAdams,[9] who put forward a life story model of identity to describe three levels of personality, leading to explorations of how significant life transitions are narrated and how the "self and culture come together in narrative".[10][11]

Narrative psychological approaches have become influential in research into the self and identity, as analysing life stories can explore the "unity and coherence" of the self.[6][12] More recently, narrative psychology has sought to use quantitative research to study communication and identity, studying narratives to obtain empirical data about human social cognition and adaptation.[13]


Narrative psychologists use interviews to provide an opportunity for a person to give a detailed account of their life or particular events. Narratives can then be transcribed and analyzed in order to describe and interpret them.[14][15]


According to Brown and Taylor (1997), African-American slaves have made contributions to narrative psychology by participating in the Federal Writers' Project that was conducted from 1937 to 1938. Nearly three hundred field workers participated in the process of interviewing 2000 slaves across seventeen states to construct narratives from the former slaves' accounts of their lives as slaves and during the period after the Civil War. One of the best interviewers was said[by whom?] to be folklorist Ruby Pickens Tartt, who worked principally in rural Sumter County in Alabama. She recorded exactly what the slaves would say in their interviews, and she went on to write folk tales based on their tales.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Sarbin, Theodore R. (1986). Narrative Psychology: The storied nature of human conduct. Praeger. ISBN 9780275921033.
  2. ^ Schiff, Brian (2012). "The Function of Narrative: Toward a Narrative Psychology of Meaning". Narrative Works. 2: 33–47.
  3. ^ Brockmeie, Jens; Carbaugh, Donal A. (2001). Narrative and I. John Benjamins Publishing. p. 10. ISBN 9027226415.
  4. ^ Beck, Julie (August 10, 2015). "Life's Stories". The Atlantic. Retrieved December 2, 2016.
  5. ^ Crossley, Michele L. (2000). Introducing Narrative Psychology. McGraw-Hill education. p. 40. ISBN 9780335231287.
  6. ^ a b Forgas, Joseph P.; Vincze, Orsolya; László, János (2013). "Social Cognition and Communication: Background, Theories, and Research". Social Cognition and Communication. Psychology Press. p. 8. ISBN 9781135011055.
  7. ^ Bruner, Jerome (2009). Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674029019.
  8. ^ Bruner, Jerome (1990). Acts of Meaning. Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674003613.
  9. ^ McAdams, Dan P. (1993). The Stories We Live by: Personal Myths and the Making of the Self. Guilford Press. ISBN 9781572301887.
  10. ^ Vassilieva, Julia (2016). Narrative Psychology: Identity, Transformation and Ethics. Springer. p. 15. ISBN 9781137491954.
  11. ^ McAdams, Dan P. (2013). The Redemptive Self: Stories Americans Live By. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199969753.
  12. ^ Crossley, Michele L. (2000). "Narrative Psychology, Trauma and the Study of Self/Identity". Theory & Psychology. 10 (4): 527–546. doi:10.1177/0959354300104005. S2CID 145609363.
  13. ^ László, János (2008). The Science of Stories: An Introduction to Narrative Psychology. Routledge. ISBN 9781134048403.
  14. ^ Murray, Michael (2015). "Narrative Psychology". In Jonathan A. Smith (ed.). Qualitative Psychology: A Practical Guide to Research Methods. SAGE. pp. 85–107. ISBN 9781473933408.
  15. ^ Murray, Michael (2021). "Some ways of doing narrative research". In Paul M. Camic (ed.). Qualitative Research in Psychology: Expanding Perspectives in Methodology and Design. American Psychological Association. pp. 101–122. ISBN 9781433834455.
  16. ^ Brown, Alan; Taylor, David (1997). Gabr'l Blow Sof': Sumter County, Alabama, Slave Narratives. Livingston Press. ISBN 9780942979374.