Psikhologicheskie Issledovaniya • ISSN 2075-7999
peer-reviewed • open access journal


Nourkova V.V, Dnestrovskaya M.V., Mikhailova K.S. Cultural life script as a dynamic semantic structure of autobiographical experience (re)organization

Full text in Russian: Нуркова В.В., Днестровская М.В., Михайлова К.С. Культурный жизненный сценарий как динамическая семантическая структура (ре)организации индивидуального жизненного опыта
Lomonosov Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia

About authors
Suggested citation

The core function of autobiographical memory is to form a “database” for coherent self-consciousness over time (Wilson, Ross, 2003; Bluck et al., 2005). The way people construct their life stories follows cultural conventions on life scripts (Bohn, Berntsen, 2008; Habermas, 2007). Cultural life scripts are mental representations of the culturally expected events in a typical life and their age norms (Berntsen, Rubin, 2004; Nourkova et al., 2005). The main resource of anchoring the most preferable content of self is autobiographical memory. To put it more precisely, people are expected to internalize specific cultural life script and then to employ it for individual narratives. Different cultures have specific sets of requirements for personality (Kagitcibasi, 1997, Hofstede, 2001; Schwartz, 2002; etc). There are cultures in which autonomy is more supported than relatedness and via verse. Parents teach their children to remember themselves in a certain way (for instance, as an autonomous agent or as a part of social structure). It is common that people from generally collectivistic societies would create life narrative in terms of relatedness. On the contrary, people from generally individualistic societies would put their life story in more autonomous terms. There are many findings that support this view (Conway et al., 2005; Jobson, O'Kearney, 2008; etc). But human life should not be homogeneous in respect to the proportion of autonomy and relatedness. People may be determined to shift their minds from one perspective to another while they change their social roles.

The objective of the first study was to determine whether expressions of autonomy and relatedness in autobiographical narrative vary by age of memories and by (sub)cultural specificity within one (Russian) language sample.

40 female participants (mean age 81) were enrolled, 20 participants lived in rural areas and 20 participants lived in big cities since their birth. The participants were asked to tell “the story of life”. All stories were recorded, transcribed and coded. The following words in narratives were considered as the relatedness (collectivistic) markers: (1) pronouns “you”, “we”, “he”, “she”, “all”, “they”; (2) verbs describing group activities; (3) names of other people; (4) relatives; (5) words with meaning of professional or other membership (i.e. “peasants”, “troops”). The following words in narratives were considered as the autonomy (individualistic) markers: (1) pronouns “I”, “me”, “my”, “mine”; (2) own name; (3) verbs describing personal activities; (4) words, those meant unique characteristics (i.e. “a big fish in a small pond”).

The analyses of time distribution of verbal markers of autonomy and relatedness shows that they are represented in autobiographical narratives dynamically. In the rural group a double advantage of collectivistic verbal markers over individualistic ones was found. However there were two age periods where rural participants recollected their past individualistically. There were childhood and old age. It means that people from generally collectivistic population have individualistic representation of childhood and old age. This is interpreted in terms of life scenario that require high level of autonomy in children (they take care about themselves on their own) and high value of old age in traditional culture (age of wisdom, age of family authority, age of spirituality). In the urban group an equal proportion of collectivistic and individualistic verbal markers was found. There was a well-balanced life scenario according to individualism / collectivism parameters. But an age period where urban participants recollected their past collectivistically was also found. There was almost none individualistic verbal markers in early recollections. It means that people from generally individualistic population have collectivistic representation of childhood.

To examine what happens if an individual changes cultural context in youth we carried out the second study. Does person who were born in a village and then moved to a big city recollect personal past in the way she/he experienced it or in compliance with the current cultural situation? To answer the question we recruited 20 participants who were born in a village and at the age of 18–20 moved in a big city (mean age of the participants was 79,2). The same procedure as described above was employed for the second study.

People from migrant sample switched in their recollections about early years into urban mode of life scenario. There was almost none individualistic verbal markers in their early recollections. They experienced their childhood as rural subjects but recollect their childhood as urban sample. Additionally memories about childhood “mirrored” recollections about recent past in respect to the level of autonomy and relatedness. This supports the main view on constructive nature of autobiographical memory and its impact to self-concept. Semantic of narrative about childhood doesn't reflect the experience of childhood. On thecontrary, it presumably mirrors the current self.

Keywords: autobiographical memory, autobiographical narrative, cultural life script


The study was supported by the grant of the President of Russian Federation for government support of young Russian scientists, project МД-3423.2011.6.

Cyrillic letters are transliterated. The titles are given in author’s translation.

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Received 15 August 2011. Date of publication: 22 October 2012.

About authors

Nourkova Veronika V. Ph.D., Professor, Department of Psychology, Lomonosov Moscow State University, ul. Mokhovaya, 11, str. 9, 125009 Moscow, Russia
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Dnestrovskaya Mariya V. M.Sci., Department of Psychology, Lomonosov Moscow State University, ul. Mokhovaya, 11, str. 9, 125009 Moscow, Russia
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Mikhailova Kseniya S. Ph.D student, Department of Psychology, Lomonosov Moscow State University, ul. Mokhovaya, 11, str. 9, 125009 Moscow, Russia
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Suggested citation

Nourkova V.V, Dnestrovskaya M.V., Mikhailova K.S. Cultural life script as a dynamic semantic structure of autobiographical experience (re)organization. Psikhologicheskie Issledovaniya, 2012, Vol. 5, No. 25, p. 2. (in Russian, abstr. in English).

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