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Northwestern senior Halimah Jones spent the summer analyzing life story interviews to discover if negative outlooks on life after enduring hardships correlates with negative well-being.


This is another in a series of Q&As profiling Northwestern undergraduate researchers.

 

Who am I?

 

It’s a question almost everyone grapples with at some point in life.

 

To help find the answer, narrative psychologists argue that individuals create their own “life stories” by reconstructing the past in order to make sense of the present. These life stories can be analyzed in terms of plots, characters and themes just like a literary work.

 

With the field of narrative psychology gaining ground, one Northwestern University undergraduate is in the thick of it.

 

Halimah Jones, a senior in the School of Education and Social Policy, is working alongside Dan McAdams, one of the field’s leading scientists. Jones is conducting research of her very own thanks to undergraduate research funding.

 

“We all do it,” Jones said. “Human beings all experience trauma, and we all make sense of life through the stories we tell about ourselves.”

 

Narrative psychology attempts to help people interpret and reshape their life story.

 

“Putting a positive spin on the past,” she said, “can have a positive impact on a person’s psychological and social well-being in the present.”

 

To prove her theory, Jones and another researcher spent the summer analyzing 160 lengthy interviews to discover if negative outlooks on life after enduring hardships correlates with negative well-being.

 

Jones first became interested in psychology during her freshman year and was later hired as a research assistant to McAdams.

 

McAdams, who has had his work published in the New York Times and the Atlantic, is regarded as a rock star in the world of narrative psychology.

 

The Wade Rogers Professor of Psychology and director of the Foley Center for the Study of Lives at Northwestern, McAdams is best known for developing a life-story theory of human identity. The theory maintains that people validate their lives with a sense of unity and purpose by creating and interpreting self-defining life stories.

 

“At this point in my life, I feel like I’ve started to figure out who I am,” said Jones, offering a bit of her own personal narrative. “I really found myself at Northwestern.”

 

Click here for the full story including a Q&A with Jones, who recently spoke to Northwestern News about her research and reflected on her time at Northwestern.