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Memory. 2013 Jan;21(1):97-110. doi: 10.1080/09658211.2012.706614. Epub 2012 Aug 16.

Does making meaning make it better? Narrative meaning making and well-being in at-risk African-American adolescent females.

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Rollins School of Public Health, Department of Behavioral Sciences and Health Education, 1518 Clifton Rd. NE, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA.


It has been argued that, for certain people, attempts at making meaning about past life events, especially challenging events, might be detrimental to well-being. In this study we explored the association between narrative indicators of meaning making and psychological well-being, while also considering the role of individual level factors such as life history, personality characteristics, and locus of control, among an at-risk sample of low socioeconomic status inner-city African-American adolescent females with challenging lives. We found that having a more external locus of control and including more cognitive processing language in narratives about a highly negative past experience were associated with increased depressive symptoms. Our findings suggest that certain types of narrative meaning-making language may reflect ongoing and unsuccessful efforts after meaning, and may be more similar to rumination than to resolution. Additionally they support claims that for certain individuals from challenging backgrounds, efforts after meaning might not be psychologically healthy.

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