Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Major Professor

Robert G. Wahler

Committee Members

Kathleen Lawler, John Lounsbury, Rich Saudergas


Research on personal narrative as a template or map that organizes experience and creates a lens for the interpretation of reality has largely relied on structural analysis for its assessments of adequacy. As a synthesis of beliefs and values with actions, thoughts, and feelings, however, the tone and thematic quality of an individual's life story must also shape the narrative compass that guides interactions in the social world. Among these elements, one's theory of reality will exert a significant impact on the overall context within which the specific unfolding of narrative plots occurs. In Western societies in particular, this perspective on life and reality develops in the everyday experiences of a culture in search of perfection, carefree living, and happily-ever-after endings. Based upon this partial and inaccurate view of life, a narrative so characterized might be narrowly focused, poorly differentiated, and only moderately able to guide sensitive responding to inevitably encountered conflicts. A personal narrative which is instead built upon a holistic, integrated, and grounded philosophy of reality should serve as a more coherent, complex, and articulate guideline for responsive behavior.

This study attempts to revise traditional conceptions of healthy tone and content by integrating Eastern philosophical thought on the wholeness of reality and the "good life" with approaches to narrative analysis. The personal narratives of 34 mother-child teacher triads were coded according to a new categorical system for content analysis based on the narrator's relationship with conflict. Four independent categories were defined and hierarchically arranged to produce a developmental continuum of content sophistication. Level one described a relationship of struggle with the inevitability of conflict, while level four represented an acceptance of conflict with the recognition of a balancing silver lining.

Hierarchical regression analyses were conducted to test the power of the "balance" variable to predict mother and teacher responsiveness. While child negativity was the strongest predictor of responsiveness in both cases, narrative balance accounted for significant variance in the school setting. The balance variable did not reach significance in models from the home setting.

Introduction of this new paradigm supports the relevance and importance of content in personal narrative. Future research should investigate differences in the use of narrative maps in school and home setting s to explore one hypothesized explanation of this study's results, namely that the intense familiarity between mother and child precludes the necessity of a balanced and elaborate narrative to guide responsive parenting behavior.

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Psychology Commons