Getting a life: the emergence of the life story in adolescence

Psychol Bull. 2000 Sep;126(5):748-69. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.126.5.748.


In the life story, autobiographical remembering and self-understanding are combined to create a coherent account of one's past. A gap is demonstrated between developmental research on the story-organization of autobiographical remembering of events in childhood and of life narratives in adulthood. This gap is bridged by substantiating D.P. McAdams's (1985) claim that the life story develops in adolescence. Two manifestations of the life story, life narratives and autobiographical reasoning, are delineated in terms of 4 types of global coherence (temporal, biographical, causal, and thematic). A review of research shows that the cognitive tools necessary for constructing global coherence in a life story and the social-motivational demands to construct a life story develop during adolescence. The authors delineate the implications of the life story framework for other research areas such as coping, attachment, psychotherapeutic process, and the organization of autobiographical memory.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Autobiographies as Topic*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Male
  • Personality Development*
  • Psychology, Adolescent*
  • Self Concept*