We need a conducive setting where we can elaborate on our experience of illness.

We need a conducive setting where we can elaborate on our experience of illness.

Chapter 12 NARRATIVE AS AN ELABORATIVE REHEARSAL FOR AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL MEMORIES

Chiara Fioretti

In our laboratory or in the hospital with oncological patients, our team implemented intervention studies aiming to evaluate emotional changes of memory due to the opportunity to narrate autobiographical past. (Pg.251)

***

I particularly enjoyed the reference to Conway’s (2005) model of self-memory system (SMS), which considers the role of identity and culture in autobiographical remembering: a person’s identity and life goals underpin the remembering one’s personal life history. (Pg.252)

***

In his model, both culture and the individual shape autobiographical memory contributing to define the self. In this process of identity definition, the role of autobiographical memories is important but even more pivotal is the narrative elaboration the person does with regards to his or her memories. In this chapter, I will argue that there is actually just one way to study autobiographical memory, and it is by means of the narrative people provide of it. Moreover, narrative is not just a way to recall and share autobiographical memories, but can be considered as an elaborative rehearsal. (Pg.252)

***

Language used in narratives provides autobiographical memories with an organizational structure. Thus, narrative transforms autobiographical memory and organizes past life event memories into a comprehensible, chronological and causal sequence of individual events (Bruner, 1991; Fivush, 2011). (Pg.252)

***

The development of autobiographical memory is therefore strictly connected to the opportunity people have to narrate past life experience by putting it in a language for others (Smorti & Fioretti, 2016).(Pg,253)

***

Yet narrative is not just a way to recall and share autobiographical memories, but can be considered as an elaborative rehearsal of the remembered past (Tulving & Craik, 2000). (Pg.253)

***

People need to re-elaborate their past memories through narrative in order to find new meanings and new emotional involvement, especially in the case of impacting experiences such as oncological illness. Later, the same author (Bruner, 2004) published an article entitled “Life as Narrative,” considering the role of narrative not just as sharing past life memories with others, but also on shaping present life. In other words, the use of language, the narrative format and the setting not only rehearse the memory but also produce a story radically transformed from what it was before (Smorti, 2011). (Pg.253)

***

Results showed that narrated memories are richer in terms of emotions than memories to narrate. Moreover, the narrated memories were more significantly complex than memories to narrate: the narrativization process allowed new and different emotions to arise. We also investigated which types of emotions arose after having narrated autobiographical memories. Interestingly, the one emotion that increased significantly was surprise. Surprise expresses the presence of an unexpected event and this is one of the particularities of narrative, that is, taking into consideration and giving a meaning to what is unexpected (Bruner, 1991). So, it seems that, through narrating, memories really are transformed into a narrative form and acquire narrative devices. (Pg.256)

***

SHORT VERSUS LONG NARRATIVES AND MEMORY ELABORATION

To further investigate the role of narrative in promoting emotional elaboration of autobiographical memories, we implemented the ME-NA-ME model giving students two narrative experimental settings. After having recalled autobiographical memories in a memory recall task, a first group of university students completed a five-line short narrative (SN), while a second group completed a long narrative (LN). Data was collected in class during university courses. The aims of the study were explained in brief to the students, leaving them the opportunity to take part or not to the study. Thus, after the recall task, we asked to the SN group: “now please select one of the memories you have listed and try to narrate it using the five lines you find below.” The LN group received the following request: “now please select one of the memories you have listed and try to narrate it, writing all that you remember about it. You can use the whole page.” Finally, a new memory recall task was implemented.

As in the first study, changes in number of emotions and in positive, negative and complex emotional tones allocated to memories before and after the narrative were assessed: to reach our research goal, we focused only on the narrated memories which had also recalled in the second recall task. Results showed that there are several differences in the way in which short and long narratives improve changes in the emotional valence of autobiographical memory. The emotional content of an autobiographical memory can change through narrative especially when the narrator can re-elaborate it in a long narrative and have the opportunity to consider some details of the memory which he or she had not thought of at the moment of the memory retrieval. Participants in the LN group better elaborated their memories giving rise to more positive and complex emotions than participants in the SN group. In other words, the greater the opportunity people have to narrate their memories, the better they can consider new points of view and new emotions related to them. (Pg.257)

EXPLORING ILLNESS TRANSITION THROUGH NARRATING AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL MEMORIES

Facing a breakdown of autobiography implies the need to re-elaborate life experience, thereby reestablishing continuity between life before and after the disease (Axia, 2004). Scientific evidence shows that cancer affects the availability to recall past events and to reflect on them (Giffard, Viard, & Dayan, 2013). In these cases, autobiographical memory fluency is often characterized by the tendency to recall general rather than specific memories and positive memories rather than negative ones.

In this particular life condition, patients often request for psychological support expressing the need to find a setting where they can elaborate their experience of illness, putting into words their emotions and thoughts. Narrative seems thus a significant opportunity to improve the elaboration of memories of illness. (Pg.258)

***

In our results we observed that the narrativization process is stronger in negative memories of illness: narrating negatively impacting memories decreased negative emotions and gave rise to positive ones. This result was confirmed by analyzing the linguistic differences between negative and positive narratives of illness: negative narratives appeared longer and more related to the past and the future, and were significantly more organized in terms of incorporating more total and temporal connections, most likely because of the participants’ need to create coherence out of negative memories (see Table 12.1 for descriptive statistics).1 (Pg.258)

***

Since memories are narrated in a relational context, many authors suggest that the characteristics of the listener have a deep role in the narrativization process (Pasupathi, 2001; Pasupathi et al., 1998; Pasupathi & Oldroyd, 2015). This issue is strictly related with the concept of “setting Specificity” discussed in Brown’s and Reavey’s chapter. Indeed, the narrative act is always facing someone and therefore is dependent on the type of relationship between a listener and a storyteller. (Pg.258)

***

The relationship between narrator and listener, therefore, allows the occurrence of a “new” story that differs from what the narrator may have told others, because it is modified by new interactive situations. Theories about the social construction of autobiographical memories have maintained that memory has a constructive and contextual nature. (Pg.260)

***

This is actually in line with what Steve Brown and Paula Reavey (this volume) suggest about the inclusion in the self-memory system of “others with whom we interact closely” (p. 14). (Pg.260)

***

The narrative format was confirmed to have an important role in the elaboration of autobiographical memory, but only when it occurred in a welcoming and empathic interaction. In particular, the results demonstrated that narrating a past life memory to an attentive peer improves the positive elaboration of a memory, at the same time as decreasing the number of negative emotions. This important memory change does not occur if the narrative setting is characterized by detached and distracted listening. (Pg.261)

***

CONCLUSIONS

In other words, there is a similarity among remembering the past, perceiving the present or imagining the future. And this is exactly what happens when we narrate an autobiographical memory: narrative gives memory a temporal and causal structure, connecting what happened in the past with the present and the future.

Thus, these results bring are to the starting point of this chapter: there is only one way to study autobiographical memory, and it is by means of the narrative of the past in the present.

Maybe it would be more exact to say that time can be conceived of in three ways: the present of the past, the present of the present, the present of the future. The present of the past is memory, the present of the present is vision, the present of the future is wait. (pp. 14–17, 397 a.d)

The same construct of life space goes in this direction: the total field of possibilities in the life space is constituted by the present informed by our capacity to engage with the past and to imagine realizable futures. (Pg.263)

***

The studies on narrativization of memory and on the role of the listener on memory elaboration suggest that remembering has to be considered as a dynamic process operating in context and operated upon by the context.

Studying memory in the wild means taking into consideration that sharing memory with others, even if in an ecological context, is a process of change of memory itself. (Pg.264)

“Memory in the Wild (Niels Bohr Professorship Lectures in Cultural Psychology)” by Brady Wagoner, Ignacio Bresco de Luna, Sophie Zadeh

WE&P By: EZorrilla.