Meaning making in mothers' and children's narratives of emotional events

Memory. 2008;16(6):579-94. doi: 10.1080/09658210802150681.


Narrative coherence and the inclusion of mental state language are critical aspects of meaning making, especially about stressful events. Mothers and their 8- to 12-year-old children with asthma independently narrated a time they were scared, frustrated, and happy. Although mothers' narratives were generally more coherent and more saturated with mental state language than children's narratives, for both mothers and children narratives of negative events were more coherent and contained more mental state language than narratives of positive events overall, and narratives of scary events contained more mental state language than narratives of frustrating events. Coherence appears to be multifaceted, in that the three dimensions of coherence coded, context, chronology, and theme were not strongly interrelated within narratives of the same event, but use of mental state language, including cognitive-processing and emotion words, appears to be more integrated. Moreover, while thematic coherence seems to be a consistent individual narrative style across valence of event being narrated, mental state language appears to be a consistent style only across the two stressful event narratives. Finally, and quite surprisingly, there were virtually no relations between mothers' and children's narrative meaning making.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Asthma / psychology*
  • Child
  • Child Behavior / psychology*
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Recall / physiology
  • Mother-Child Relations*
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Verbal Behavior*