Date of Award

12-2007

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

MS Experimental Psychology

Department

Psychology

Advisor

Janine P. Buckner

Committee Member

Kelly M. Goedert

Committee Member

Susan E. Teague

Keywords

Autobiographical memory, Perceived audience, Psychology, Experimental psychology

Abstract

Autobiographical memory is the recollection of facts and events that have been interpreted and integrated into a consistent story about one's self (Bruner, 1987; Neisser, 1988). Repeated studies have shown that the characteristics of the audience are an important factor that influences narrative structure and content. The purpose of this particular study was to address whether or not the physical presence of a person differently influences the structure and content of written types of narrative reporting. Narrative structure included the details and length of the respective narratives, while the content we studied included emotional terminology, references to others, and narrative themes. Gender was also examined as a contributing factor in the narrative recalls. It was hypothesized that memories written with an experimenter present would contain more details, emotional words, and references to 'self and 'others' than memories written when the experimenter was absent. Recognizing that social recall contexts often enhance memory reports, we anticipated that narratives written in a "group setting" (in the presence of other participants) would be longer, more detailed, and more emotionally charged than those written in an "individual setting" (when a participant wrote their narrative in a room alone). We also predicted that male participants would write less in general and divulge proportionally less emotional content in the presence of the experimenter, and include fewer references to self than would their female counterparts. Finally, we expected that more individually-themed narratives would be produced in individual recall settings while more socially-themed narratives would be produced in the group recall contexts. Results indicated that having an experimenter present at the reminiscence sessions elicited more richly detailed narratives from both males and females. It was observed that for males, individual recall settings produce longer narrative lengths than group settings. Males also made less self-references in group reminiscence settings when compared to individual recall settings, but this was only true if the experimenter was present. And running reminiscence sessions in group settings produced more emotionally charged narratives, again, from both males and females. But this was only true if the experimenter was present. Subsequently, these results may serve to inform researchers on how to better elicit written narratives from research participants.

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