Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

How the Use of Redemption Versus Contamination Sequences in the Telling of Life Stories Is Associated with Health Related Outcomes in Midlife Adults
by Murphy, Michael L. M., Ph.D., Northwestern University, 2016, 164; 10117278
Abstract (Summary)

There is a long history in psychological science of studying the negative sequelae that follow exposure to traumatic or other adverse life events. A large body of evidence has accumulated showing that individuals who have experienced major adversity are at higher risk for both mental and physical illness. However, while it is certainly true that some individuals experience these deleterious outcomes following adversity, the majority of individuals appear to be resilient to adversity. Moreover, some people even demonstrate personal growth following the experience. These observations have given rise to an interest in understanding how people make meaning out of threatening experiences, as well as the mechanisms through which people display resilience and even growth following adversity.

Relevant to this, a mounting body of research coming out of personality and narrative psychology has argued that a person’s identity is formed by developing an autobiographical life narrative that reconstructs past experiences, acknowledges the present, and projects into the future. This is called “narrative identity.” These life stories are not objective recounts of past experiences; rather, they are insights into who individuals views themselves as now. As such, individuals have some ability to shape past adversities insofar as they are able to choose how they will ultimately narrate the experience and incorporate it into their own sense of identity.

There are two major types of scenes that come up in life stories that have importance to how one fares in the face of adversity. Some people develop stories of redemption, where negative experiences are transformed into something positive. Conversely, some people narrate stories of contamination, where positive experiences are subsequently ruined by something negative. The use of redemptive imagery in the life story is positively associated with indicators of psychological well-being, whereas the use of contamination sequences is negatively associated with well-being. However, whether redemption and contamination narrations are associated with physical health remains unknown.

To address this, I report on data drawn from a larger longitudinal study of midlife American adults. At the baseline visit, participants underwent an extensive life story interview and completed various questionnaires. Five years later they underwent the same procedure. Within a year of this second visit, they filled out additional questionnaires related to mood, well-being, and health, and also had their blood drawn to assess cardiometabolic health indicators. For metabolic properties, height, weight, waist circumference, blood pressure, total cholesterol, and glycosylated hemoglobin (a method of assessing average plasma glucose levels over the past 3 months) were assessed at the time of the study visit, and these variables were used to index metabolic syndrome related components and risk. At that time, serum was also frozen to allow for future batch testing of inflammatory proteins and markers. From this serum, C-reactive protein (CRP) and lipoprotein-associated phospholipase A2 (Lp-PLA2) were quantified in all participants to assess markers of general systemic inflammation (CRP) as well vasculature specific inflammation (Lp-PLA2). Additionally, a panel of inflammatory chemical messengers – called cytokines – were assayed as broader indicators of peripheral inflammatory activity. These cytokines were interleukin-6 (IL-6), interleukin-8 (IL-8), interleukin-10 (IL-10), interferon-γ (IFNγ), and tumor necrosis factor α (TNFα). Levels of the various inflammatory markers and cytokines (CRP, Lp-PLA2, IL-6, IL-8, IL-10, IFNγ, and TNFα) were z-scored and summed to create a composite inflammatory variable.

This study has three overarching sets of hypotheses, as well as one set of exploratory hypotheses. First, the usage of redemptive sequences in individuals’ life stories should be associated with better cardiometabolic health outcomes. This should be evidenced by better subjective self-reported health, fewer components related to metabolic syndrome as well as lower metabolic risk, lower levels of CRP, less risk of having a CRP value falling in the “high cardiovascular risk” category, and lower levels of composite inflammation. Second, the usage of contamination sequences in individuals’ life stories should be associated with poorer cardiometabolic health outcomes. This should be evidenced by worse subjective self-reported health, more components related to metabolic syndrome as well as higher metabolic risk, higher levels of CRP, more risk of having a CRP value falling in the “high cardiovascular risk” category, and higher levels of composite inflammation. Third, there should be an interaction between the presence of redemption sequences and the presence of contamination sequences in predicting the various cardiometabolic health outcomes. (Abstract shortened by ProQuest.)

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Miller, Greg E.
Commitee: McAdams, Dan P., Mroczek, Dan K.
School: Northwestern University
Department: Psychology
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: DAI-B 77/10(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Psychobiology, Personality psychology
Keywords: Cardiovascular health, Life story, Metabolic health, Narrative, Personality
Publication Number: 10117278
ISBN: 978-1-339-78681-0
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