Autobiographical narrative and the question of coherence: Implications for identity development

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Barbara H. Fiese


Coherence, Identity, Narrative

Subject Categories

Cognitive Psychology


Theory and research pertaining to the nature of identity development, new narrative methodologies, and narrative theory of identity are briefly reviewed. It was proposed that a new method in measuring narrative coherence may serve to bridge the gap between theory and method which appears problematic in theories of identity (e.g., Grotevant, 1993). The present project attempted to validate Fiese et al.'s (1995) collaborative project narrative coherence measure as a tool to measure identity development, and to support Grotevant's (1987) process model of identity. Specifically, it was hypothesized that identity consolidation would be associated with greater coherence of self-relevant narrative. A multi-method approach was used in an effort to establish construct, convergent, and discriminant validity of the narrative coherence measure. In addition to identity consolidation, it was predicted that narrative coherence would positively correlate with orientation toward life, and healthy family functioning. It was further expected that verbal intelligence and social desirability would not significantly predict narrative coherence ratings. Sixty-two undergraduate subjects completed questionnaires associated with personal background (Demographics), identity (EOMEIS-2), orientation toward life (Antonovsky's SOC), family functioning (FACES-III), and social desirability (Marlowe-Crowne SDS). Subjects participated in a verbal intelligence task (WAIS-R vocabulary subtest). Next, each told two personal stories (one neutral, and one about personal change) which were captured on videotape and coded on coherence by trained, unbiased coders. Results did not conform to expected patterns, but partial, indirect evidence consistent with the major prediction emerged. Findings of particular interest concern the relevance of affective congruence in communication and identity process, apparent influence of trauma content in change stories, and gender differences in coherence codability. Findings were discussed in relation to theoretical predictions, with special attention to methodological strategies which may enhance statistical findings in future investigations.