Recent work with Natasha Pierre and Rachel Wesley, two former undergraduate members of the lab, is now in press as a new research article at the Journal of College Student Development. This research paper, titled “Agency, Identity Development, and Subjective Well-Being, among Undergraduate Students at a Central US University,” addressed the ways college adults reminisced about challenging high school experiences and the extent these students incorporated values of agency and assertiveness in their life stories.
Agency and the ways people identify and strive toward personal control and realization of important personal goals reflects a major set of basic needs and drives for human beings. From childhood onward, we tend to integrate agency and other motivations into our recollections about the past. Why did we do certain things across the day? What was important for us to accomplish, even if we had to push back on something else to get there? These kinds of themes remain important in our autobiographical stories over the course of the lifespan. Natasha, Rachel, and I looked at two different ways of rating life stories for displays of agency: one broad, global measure of the ways agentic themes were emphasized over the course of the whole story; and more specific ways agency might be expressed when individuals took an originally negative life story and found redemption in the story’s events–here we considered the extent agentic values and self-control were emphasized as events were positively resolved.
Findings showed that broad displays of agency across these entire stories about challenging high school experiences were associated with college adults’ greater reports of well-being (i.e., more positive feelings, higher ratings of satisfaction with life). More specific mentions of agency as adults changed the emotional arc of their challenging stories to have positive endings were associated with greater reports of identity development. These findings are both important as well-being coincides with greater college and young adult functioning (i.e., higher GPA, greater social belonging and functioning on campus), and identity development–figuring out “who am I?” and our place in the world–is a major task for teens and young adults.
This work has been a promising look at the role of life stories and motivations as developmentally important. These student contributors are now moving onto their graduate careers in other areas of psychological science. We appreciate all of their great contributions to the lab and wish them the best as they continue forward.
Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11(4), 227–268. JSTOR. https://doi.org/10/bfn2hn
Schwartz, S. J., Côté, J. E., & Arnett, J. J. (2005). Identity and agency in emerging adulthood: Two developmental routes in the individualization process. Youth & Society, 37(2), 201–229. https://doi.org/10.1177/0044118X05275965