Remembering Loss
Longitudinal relations between self-defining memories and self-esteem
The Social Function of Autobiographical Memory in the Personal and Virtual World
Well-being in the Second Half of Life
In Memory: Predicting Memorializing Preferences in Young Adults
Support Care Team: Program Evaluation
Palliative Care Needs Assessment
Functions of Early Childhood Memories
Life Events in the Life Story
“In Memoriam:” Identity Strivings in Emerging Adulthood
Self Continuity
The “Brush with Death” Study


Remembering Loss

This work focuses on reminiscence about a particular topic: recalling the life and the dying days of a lost loved one. Research has explored how individuals who have lost a loved one remember the experiences shared together over their lifetime. We propose that remembering is central to two positive aspects of the initial grief experience: meaning-making and personal growth. When the initial period of responding to a significant loss has concluded, however, memory still has a role to play. Individuals continue to recall days and moments of the life they shared with their loved one, often holding these memories dear for the rest of their lives. As part of that, they may recall a particularly intimate period: their loved one’s dying days. This includes memories of final conversations with, or the last time they saw, the deceased. What function might memories from the dying days serve? We argue that these memories can be used to maintain self-continuity and encourage social bonding. If so, this has implications for shaping the environments in which individuals die: place of death may affect the content and quality of the final memories formed.


Longitudinal relations between self-defining memories and self-esteem

Self-esteem is important to mental health across the lifespan. The present study examines the role of self-defining memories in fostering self-esteem using a one-year longitudinal design with an adult lifespan sample (Longitudinal Internet Studies in the Social Sciences; N = 1216, 18-92, M(age) = 49.52; SD(age) = 17.25). The interplay between narrators’ personality and two memory processes, meaning-making and functional memory use, is investigated. To assess personality at the life story level, participants provided three self-defining memory narratives and their personality positivity was operationalized as the ratio of positive-to-all memories. Memory narratives were reliably coded for meaning-making and participants reported the extent to which they use each remembered event to serve adaptive functions. One year later, participants completed a measure of self-esteem. Personality positivity at Time 1 predicts greater self-esteem at Time 2. The effect of personality positivity occurs, however, completely through mediating memory processes: creating positive meaning and using memories functionally. The findings contribute to the literature on narrative identity and autobiographical memory by delineating how memory processes help in self-regulation, enhancing self-esteem over time. The relative roles of personality (i.e., at the life story level), and narrative memory processes in creating self-esteem are discussed.


The Social Function of Autobiographical Memory in the Personal and Virtual World

Little is known about whether autobiographical memory sharing via popular social media modes (i.e., Instant Messaging) can encourage social bonding in the same way that it does when memories are shared in-person. In this project, university students listened to a stranger tell either a positive or negative autobiographical memory face-to-face or via social media. Social bonds (i.e., affect, interest, closeness) with the stranger were assessed. Face-to-face autobiographical memory sharing led to stronger positive feelings and closeness towards the stranger, but greater interest in the stranger was evident following social media sharing. We also see a valence effect: positive memories led to higher levels of positive feelings and interest about the stranger, but negative memories led to greater feelings of closeness. Thus, the ability for memories shared by strangers to develop social bonds depends on both the form of communication and the valence of the memory being shared.


Well-being in the Second Half of Life

This study examines whether looking back in autobiographical time and one’s place in chronological time affect current well-being. Participants (N = 470) in the second half of life (age 50 – 90 years) completed a life story matrix, rating positive life events for perceived control, and influence on who they have become. They also reported negative and positive well-being. Findings show that recalling one’s self in the reminiscence bump years, not non-bump years, is related to well-being. While perceived control links to greater life satisfaction, viewing bump events as highly influential on the current self relates to lower self-esteem. Chronological age is associated with lower well-being but only very late in life. Findings are discussed in relation to the functional approach to autobiographical memory and lifespan developmental theory.


In Memory: Predicting Memorializing Preferences in Young Adults

Memorializing a lost loved one helps grieving individuals sustain meaningful connections to their past. The bereaved maintains personalized continuing bonds through activities and objects that serve as cues for remembering the lost loved one (Currier, Irish, Neimeyer, & Foster, 2015). From traditional rituals to unique and modern practices, memorializing can bring meaning to a death experience, allowing the mourner to preserve an intimate relationship with the deceased (Schwab, 2004). For young adults, the ability to choose how to memorialize may be a new behavior, driven by personal attitudes and past experiences with death. This study aims to first explore the variety of ways young adults may choose to memorialize lost loved ones. 145 emerging adults (67% female) recorded their Memorializing Preferences on a newly-developed Memorializing Checklist. Exploratory factor analysis resulted in four factors representing different styles of remembering a lost loved one: Everyday Intimacy, Community Legacy,  Unconventional Connections, and Societal Tradition. Relation of personal attitudes and life experiences with death to each of these Memorializing Preferences is explored. Each Memorializing Preference may have unique implications for grief trajectories and successful maintenance of continuing bonds.


Support Care Team: Program Evaluation

Within UFHealth, as well as the majority of hospitals nationwide, there is a great need for increased completion of Advance Directives. Advance Directives, which include a living will, healthcare surrogate, organ donation wishes, etc., are used by medical teams and families alike to follow an individual’s wishes at the end of life, especially if they are unable to communicate. These documents can provide peace of mind to both the individual and their loved ones as they make difficult decisions during times of grief and loss. However, the overall completion rate of Advance Directives is underwhelming. In partnership with Haven Hospice, a local branch of Hospice Foundation, and the Neuromedicine Interdisciplinary Clinical and Academic Program (NICAP), we have designed a research- oriented quality improvement program to increase Advance Directive completion in specific UFHealth clinics. With the help of Haven volunteers, we provide resources for understanding and completing Advance Directives, and will be collecting data on the success of the program, as well as the resources that are specifically helpful to patients.


Palliative Care Needs Assessment

Research indicates that Palliative Care efforts nationwide are not ideal. There is a disconnect between Palliative Care needs that are recognized and needs that are actually met, which leads to patient dissatisfaction (McIlfatrick, 2006; Harrison, Young, Price, Butow, & Solomon, 2009). Recently, UFHealth began the process of transitioning to a service model where Palliative Care is of equal importance to curative care across departments. This transition includes gathering a comprehensive understanding of employee involvement in Palliative Care and assessing areas of weakness and improvement opportunities. In partnership with the Neuromedicine Interdisciplinary Clinical and Academic Program (NICAP), we have created a Palliative Care Needs Assessment to identify employee understanding of Palliative Care, barriers to providing optimal care, and specific groups of employees that may need additional education. Currently, we are analyzing Needs Assessment data from the Neurointensive Care unit, as well as adjusting the Assessment to be sent to departments throughout the hospital for a large- scale assessment. Responses will record Palliative Care knowledge within UFHealth and help us identify strategies to overcome barriers. The assessment itself may also be analyzed for efficacy so that other hospitals nationwide can utilize it within similar Quality Improvement projects.


Functions of Early Childhood Memories

Human beings remember and think about events from their lives on a daily basis. Theoretical work suggests that autobiographical memories may serve a variety of functions in people’s lives. Do people’s earliest childhood memories still serve important functions in their lives? The goal of this research is to examine the functions that earliest childhood memories (as compared to recent memories), across age groups. Two studies were done.  The first study collected data from young adults (50 men, 50 women) ranging in age from 18 to 25 years.  The second study collected data from both young adults (42 men, 112 women) ages 18 to 25 and middle-aged adults (47 men, 112 women) ages 45 to 64. The participants provided open-ended narratives of their earliest childhood memory and of a recent memory.  The instructions for both the earliest and recent memories were designed to prompt specific memories, defined to the participant as any event/experience that occurred at a particular and specific place and time. The recalled memories were then rated on the Thinking about Life Experiences Scale (TALE) to assess the extent to which each memory serves self-continuity, social-bonding, and directing-behavior functions. Additional measures were included, relevant to describing the life phase of individuals in young adulthood and midlife (e.g., self-concept clarity, future time perspective, personality). Data analyses are currently in progress.


Life Events in the Life Story

This  study  is being  completed in  collaboration with  researchers at  the  University of Vienna as  part of the European Study  of Adult Well-being.  Participants (N = 800) from 50-90 years of age completed a questionnaire in which they report the significant life events that have been markers in their life story from birth to the present day. Each event is then rated on a number of dimensions including how positive or negative it was, and how much it influenced the path that their life has taken. Participants also reported at least one wisdom event and one regretted  event. Data analyses are currently underway to examine the structure and content of individual’s life stories.


“In Memoriam:” Identity Strivings in Emerging Adulthood

In this study, Emerging adults provided  an open-ended autobiographical self-defining memory narrative (Blagov & Singer, 2004)  and three self-attributes representing how  they would like to be remembered after death. Narratives were reliably content-coded for Fundamentality, (Baltes &Smith, 1990) and Event Type (Thorne & McLean, 2004), and self-attributes were reliably coded for Identity Strivings (Rammstedt & John, 2007; Ryff, 1989). The study investigates emerging adults’ identity in self-defining memories in terms of: (1) Fundamental vs. Non-Fundamental events, (2) Event Types, (3) Identity Strivings, (4) Interrelation of Fundamentality, Event Type,and Identity Striving, and (5) whether 1 – 3 differ by gender, personality, or death experience. Study 1 examines: (i) the extent to which recalling stressful autobiographical events results in anxiety, (ii) whether an open orientation toward the future acts as a buffer when recalling past mortality-related events, and (iii) and whether intimacy acts as an anxiety buffer after recalling a brush with death (Mikulnicer, Florian, & Hirschberger 2003). As predicted, recalling stressful events resulted in current feelings of anxiety, and recalling mortality-related events specifically resulted in greater death anxiety. Having an open ended future time perspective buffered anxiety for the everyday stress condition, but not for the mortality- related condition. Anticipation of a close intimate relationship in future was related to lower anxiety levels after recalling a brush with death (but not in the everyday anxiety or control groups.

Study 2 examined gender differences and also whether narrating one’s closeness to others when recalling a brush with death buffers anxiety. Emerging adults (N = 50; 25 males; 18-22 years) recalled an autobiographical“brush with death” followed by the State Anxiety Inventory (Marteau & Bekker, 1992). Results reveal women’s narratives show a greater concern that they might die during the event (i.e., subjective death-threat) than men’s, though they do not differ on the actual threat faced.


Self Continuity Project

Older and younger individuals face difficult events in their lives that can challenge their identity (e.g., loss of a loved one, illness, job loss) thereby negatively affect their psychological well-being. What psychological processes aid people in the face of such events? The current study examines how older and younger adults use personal memory of the events of their life (i.e., autobiographical memory) to maintain a continuous sense of self in the face of difficult events. Specifically, autobiographical reasoning (i.e., self-event and event-event connections) presented in narratives of challenging life events and one’s phase in life (i.e., age) are proposed to be key in predicting the experience of self-continuity. It is expected that autobiographical reasoning plays a mediating role linking the relation between age and experiential self-continuity in two adult age groups (N = 130; emerging adults, 18-27 years; older adults, 60-75 years). 


The “Brush with Death” Study

Classic lifespan theory suggests that individuals’ time perspective shifts as they move across adulthood (Neugarten, 1979), changing the extent to which the experienced past and anticipated future may act as resources. Emerging adults’ past is short with a sense of optimistic anticipation concerning the future (Arnett, 2000). They have, however, already faced everyday stressors and may even have experienced a ‘brush with death. This study examines: (i) the extent to which recalling stressful autobiographical events results in anxiety, and (ii) whether orientation toward the future acts as a buffer when recalling past mortality-related events. Emerging adults’ (N = 120) future time perspective (Carstensen & Lang, 1996) and anticipated future intimacy (Sharabany, 1994) were assessed. They were then assigned to one of three conditions, recalling: a brush with death, an everyday stressor, or past neutral activities. Following narration of the event, state anxiety was assessed (Marteau & Bekker, 1992). As predicted, recalling stressful events resulted in current feelings of anxiety, and recalling mortality-related events specifically resulted in death anxiety. Also as expected, mortality-related anxiety was buffered by future orientation. Anticipation of a close intimate relationship in future, and having a realistic sense of future time were related to lower anxiety levels after recalling a brush with death (but not in the everyday anxiety or control groups). Findings are discussed in terms of shifting relations of past to future orientations across the lifespan. 

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