Narrating positive versus negative memories of illness: does narrating influence the emotional tone of memories?

Eur J Cancer Care (Engl). 2017 May;26(3). doi: 10.1111/ecc.12524. Epub 2016 Jun 8.


Psychoncological studies have recognised a reduced autobiographical memory in cancer patients, furthermore cognitive studies have found that narrative is an effective instrument to re-elaborate memories. However, it is still unclear whether narrating positive versus negative events can have a different impact on autobiographical memory. The present study aims to explore the emotional experience of autobiographical memory before and after having narrated negative or positive events related to the illness. Of 63 oncological patients, 35 were selected for the present study. Participants completed a Memory Fluency Task twice, before and after having selected and narrated a positive (PN group) or a negative (NN group) memory of illness. They also had to attribute one or more emotions to each memory and to the narrative. The number of emotions and the percentage of emotional tones in both narrated and non-narrated memories were assessed. Narrated memories were more emotionally re-elaborated than non-narrated ones. Negative group participants, more than positive group ones, decreased negative emotions and increased complex ones. Authors discuss these results claiming that narrating works as a rehearsal of autobiographical memories in oncological patients and narrating negative memories eases the emotional re-elaboration of illness.

Keywords: autobiographical memory; cancer; emotions; narrative-based medicine; personal narrative.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Middle Aged
  • Narration*
  • Neoplasms / psychology*