Two versions of life: emotionally negative and positive life events have different roles in the organization of life story and identity.


Journal Article

Over 2,000 adults in their sixties completed the Centrality of Event Scale (CES) for the traumatic or negative event that now troubled them the most and for their most positive life event, as well as measures of current PTSD symptoms, depression, well-being, and personality. Consistent with the notion of a positivity bias in old age, the positive events were judged to be markedly more central to life story and identity than were the negative events. The centrality of positive events was unrelated to measures of PTSD symptoms and emotional distress, whereas the centrality of the negative event showed clear positive correlations with these measures. The centrality of the positive events increased with increasing time since the events, whereas the centrality of the negative events decreased. The life distribution of the positive events showed a marked peak in young adulthood whereas the life distribution for the negative events peaked at the participants' present age. The positive events were mostly events from the cultural life script-that is, culturally shared representations of the timing of major transitional events. Overall, our findings show that positive and negative autobiographical events relate markedly differently to life story and identity. Positive events become central to life story and identity primarily through their correspondence with cultural norms. Negative events become central through mechanisms associated with emotional distress.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Berntsen, D; Rubin, DC; Siegler, IC

Published Date

  • October 2011

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 11 / 5

Start / End Page

  • 1190 - 1201

PubMed ID

  • 21875191

Pubmed Central ID

  • 21875191

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1931-1516

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1037/a0024940


  • eng

Conference Location

  • United States