Personal Narrative

New York Times writer Benedict Carey reports that they ways people choose to tell their life stories do more than get information across. The story patterns fall into predictable patterns based on the psychology of the teller, and those patterns reflect their present lives and future ambitions.

“Every American may be working on a screenplay,” Carey writes, “but we are also continually updating a treatment of our own life.”

Researchers at Northwestern University said these “screenplays” guide our behavior and depend on our mental state. People with mood trouble, for example, might remember the past brightly, but with certain good situations somehow marred. Civic-minded people might see life as a series of redemptive struggles. And so on.

The way people remember individual scenes of life alters the entire story, researchers said. Which leads Carey to a conclusion that literary theorists have known for many, many years: “Seeing oneself as acting in a movie or a play is not merely fantasy or indulgence; it is fundamental to how people work out who it is they are, and may become.” In other words: “The play’s the thing…”


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