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

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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.





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Berntsen, Dorthe, David C Rubin and Ilene C Siegler (2011). Two versions of life: emotionally negative and positive life events have different roles in the organization of life story and identity. Emotion, 11(5). pp. 1190–1201. 10.1037/a0024940 Retrieved from

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David C. Rubin

Juanita M. Kreps Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience

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My main research interest has been in long-term memory, especially for complex (or "real-world") stimuli. This work includes the study of autobiographical memory and oral traditions, as well as prose. I have also studied memory as it is more commonly done in experimental psychology laboratories using lists. In addition to this purely behavioral research, which I plan to continue, I work on memory in clinical populations with the aid of a National Institute of Mental Health grant to study PTSD and on the underlying neural basis of memory the aid of a National Institute of Aging grant to study autobiographical memory using fMRI.


Ilene C. Siegler

Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

My research efforts are in the area of developmental health psychology and organized around understanding the role of personality in health and disease in middle and later life.

My primary research activity is as Principal Investigator of the UNC Alumni Heart Study (UNCAHS) a prospective epidemiologic study of 5000 middle aged men and women and 1200 of their spouses that evaluates the role of personality on coronary heart disease and coronary heart disease risk, cancer, and normal aging.

As head of Cancer Prevention Research Unit , I study the role of psychological factors related to mammography behavior and estrogen replacement therapy is being studied in UNCAHS women.


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