Last updated: May 28, 2004
Background || Internet || Bibliographical || Theorists
This section deals with approaches to the study of personality and its development which are informed by intensive study of the individual life story over time. These approaches have been variously called "psychobiography," "biographical psychology," or "life story psychology." Individuals are studied across their lifespan from the perspective of the question: how can one understand their development psychologically? This approach has undergone scholarly development from the earlier basic work done by personality psychologists such as Henry Murray as well as other psychologists (e.g., Erikson) and historians using psychoanalytic tools by which to understand key individuals, e.g., Hitler and Gandhi among others. The initial set of resources here were drawn from Runyan (1996; see below). Since the mid-1980, extensive research in this tradition has been undertaken by Dan P. McAdams and his colleagues at Northwestern.
Foley Center for the Study of Lives [Northwestern University]
- Directed by Dan P. McAdams (Psychology Department and School of Education and Social Policy, Northwestern University)
- "is an interdisciplinary research project committed to studying psychological and social development in the adult years" and " is dedicated to advancing the rich intellectual tradition associated with Henry A. Murray, Robert White, Erik Erikson, David McClelland, Silvan Tomkins, and those other scholars who established "personology" as the scientific study of the whole person in biographical and cultural context." (site description)
Henry A. Murray Research Center [Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study; Harvard University]
- "Dedicated to the study of lives over time, the Henry A. Murray Research Center promotes the use of existing social science data to explore human development in the context of social change. The Murray Center data archive is unique in that it holds many longitudinal studies, and that it includes not only quantitative data, but also qualitative materials such as case histories, open-ended interviews, and audio- and video tapes" (Site description)
- Provides a description of the major data archive holdings, current research projects by staff and affiliated scholars, grants, newletter, etc.
Psychobiography [Todd Schultz, Pacific University]
- This site by Pacific University Psychology professor, William "Todd" Schultz, offers a broad array of resources about psychobiography as a research approach to the study of personality and about important figures in this research tradition. A student of Alan C. Elms, Schultz has assembled a very helpful site.
Homepage: William MacKinley Runyan [UC Berkeley]
- "Mac" Runyan has elaborated crucial methodological insights into the responsible use of life history and case study materials in building a psychological portrait of the personality of historical figures.
Ulmus.net: The Homepage of Dr. Alan C. Elms [U California, Davis]
- The personal homepage of one of the most influential practictioners of psychobiography.
- His UC Davis homepage here
Alexander, I. (1990). Personology: Method and content in personality assessment and psychobiography. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Alexander, I. (1992). Silvan Samuel Tomkins (1911-1991). American Psychologist, 47, 1674-1675.
Anderson, J. W. (1981). The methodology of psychological biography. Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 2, 455-75.
Anderson, J. W. (1988). Henry A. Murray's early career: A psychobiographical exploration. Journal of Personality, 56, 139-171.
Rae S. Carlson
Carlson, R. (1971). Where is the person in personality research? Psychological Bulletin, 75, 203-219.
In her analysis of empirical research published in several journals devoted to personality, Carlson underscores significant methodological limitations (e.g., use of college student volunteers, gender imbalance, single instance data collection, deception, etc.) and the lack of substantial progress in understanding the actual functioning of persons.
Carlson, S. (1975). Personality. Annual Review of Psychology, 26, 393-414.
Influential literature review which detailed the emergence of personology and other innovative approaches to the study of personality.
Carlson, R. (1981). Studies in script theory: I. Adult analogs of a childhood nuclear scene. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 40, 501-510.
Discusses S. S. Tomkins' script theory as a breakthrough approach to understanding personality. Exemplifies the theory with a case study.
Carlson, R. (1982). Studies in script theory: II. Altruistic nuclear scene. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 55, 595-610.
Carlson, R. (1988). Exemplary lives: The uses of psychobiography for theory development. Journal of Personality, 56, 105-138.
Carlson, R. (1995). Silvan Tomkins's legacy: A grand theory of personality. In V. Demos (Ed). Exploring affect: The selected writings of Silvan S. Tomkins (pp. 295-300). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Demos, V. (Ed.). (1995). Exploring affect: The selected writings of Silvan S. Tomkins. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Elms, A. C. (1993.) Allport's Personality and Allport's personality. In K. M. Craik, R. T. Hogan, & R. N. Wolfe (Eds.), Fifty years of personality psychology, (pp. 39-55). New York: Plenum.
Elms, A. C. (1994). Uncovering lives: The uneasy alliance of biography and psychology. New York: Oxford University Press. [BF39.4 .E46 1994] [Comments, table of contents, and sample chapter (#1) from Elms' Ulmus.net site]
Franz, C., & Stewart, A. (Eds.). (1994). Women creating lives: Identities, resilience, and resistance. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Heller, B., & Elms, A. C. (1994). Elvis Presley: Character and charisma. In G. DePaoli (Ed.), Elvis + Marilyn: 2 x Immortal (pp. 73-97). New York: Rizzoli
Dan P. McAdams
McAdams, D. P. (1985). Power, intimacy, and the life story: Personological inquiries into identity. New York: Guilford Press.
McAdams, D. P. (1993). The stories we live by: Personal myths and the making of the self. New York: Morrow.
McAdams, D. P. (1995). What do we know when we know a person? Journal of Personality, 63, 365-396.
McAdams, D. P. (1996). Personality, modernity, and the storied self: A contemporary framework for studying persons. Psychological Inquiry, 7, 295-321.
McAdams, D. P. (1997). The case for unity in the (post)modern self: A modest proposal. In R. Ashmore & L. Jussim (Eds.), Self and identity: Fundamental issues (pp. 46-78). New York: Oxford University Press.
Here McAdams takes issue (in his characteristically respectful fashion) to strong versions of theories of the self as multiple.
McAdams, D. P. (1999). Personal narratives and the life story. In L. Pervin & O. John (Eds.), Handbook of personality: Theory and research (2nd ed., pp. 478-500). New York: Guilford Press.
This is a classic and sweeping summary of the intersection of narrative and the life story. Essential reading.
McAdams, D. P. (2001). The person: An integrated introduction to personality psychology (3rd ed.). Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt.
McAdams, D. P. (2001). The psychology of life stories. Review of General Psychology, 5(2), 100-122.
This is a comprehensive review of McAdam's theory which situates life narratives both in the developmental context of individual development and the sociocultural setting of their telling.
McAdams, D. P., & Bowman, P. T. (2001). Narrating life's turning points: Redemption and contamination. In D. P. McAdams, R. Josselson, & A. Lieblich (Eds.), Turns in the road: Narrative studies of lives in transition (pp. 3-34). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
This introductory essay to the new APA series (The Narrative Study of Lives) details the importance of adult-aged "turning points" and illustrates their role by examining McAdams' generativity research and its notion of redeemed vs. contaminated live stories.
McAdams, D. P., de St. Aubin, E., & Logan, R. (1993). Generativity among young, midlife, and older adults. Psychology and Aging, 8, 221-230.
McAdams, D. P., Diamond, A., de St. Aubin, E., & Mansfield, E. (1997). Stories of commitment: The psychosocial construction of generative lives. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72, 678-694.
McAdams, D. P., Hoffman, B. J., Mansfield, E. D., & Day, R. (1996). Themes of agency and communion in significant autobiographical scenes. Journal of Personality, 64, 339-378.
McAdams, D. P., & Ochberg, R. (Eds.). (1988). Psychobiography and life narratives. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
McAdams, D. P., Reynolds, J., Lewis, M. L., Patten, A., & Bowman, P. T. (2001). When bad things turn good and good things turn bad: Sequences of redemption and contamination in life narrative, and their relation to psychosocial adaptation in midlife adults and in students. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 472-483.
Pellegrini, R. J., & Sarbin, T. R. (2002). Between fathers and sons: Critical incident narratives in the development of men's lives. Binghamton, NY: Haworth Clinical Practice Press.
Pellegrini (San Jose State University) and Sarbin (UC Santa Cruz) have assembled 17 individual narratives from a group of distinguished psychologists and social scientists (e.g., Kenneth Gergen, Mark Freeman, George Rosenwald, Donald Spence, etc.). Each of these tales -- adopting varying styles and approaches -- focuses upon about the author's relationship with his own father and/or sons. Classified under three broad classifications (stories of identity, emotional life, and self-understanding), these chapters collectively offer multiple insights and challenges to an understanding of emotional and personal development, forms of memory, and the interplay of social context and historical situation in the way men express their roles as fathers and sons. They also give fascinating (auto)biographical insights into the lives of some of the most important constructivist and narratively-informed theorists in psychology. Pellegrini and Sarbin offer, respectively, a general introductory and a summary chapter for this collection.
Phelps, E., Furstenberg, F. F., Jr., & Colby, A. (2002). Looking at lives: American longitudinal studies of the 20th century. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
An examination of a half-century of important longitudinal studies (since the 1950s). Prepared by researchers at the Murray Research Center at Harvard.
William McKinley Runyan
Runyan, W. M. (1981). Why did Van Gogh cut off his ear? The problem of alternative explanations in psychobiography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 40, 1070-1077. [Online version]
Runyan, W. M. (1982). Life histories and psychobiography: Explorations in theory and method. New York: Oxford University Press.
Runyan, W. M. (Ed.). (1988). Psychology and historical interpretation. New York: Oxford University Press.
Runyan, W. M. (1983) Idiographic goals and the study of lives. Journal of Personality, 51, 413-437.
Runyan, W. M. (1988). Progress in psychobiography. Journal of Personality, 56, 295-326.
Runyan, W. M. (1988). Psychology and historical interpretation. New York: Oxford University Press.
Runyan, W. M. (1994). Coming to terms with the life, loves, and work of Henry A. Murray [Review of the book Love's story told: A life of Henry A. Murray]. Contemporary Psychology, 39, 701-704.
Runyan, W. M. (1996). Psychobiography: Understanding one life at a time [Review of the book Uncovering lives: The uneasy alliance of biography and psychology]. Contemporary Psychology, 39, 984-987.
Runyan, W. M. (1997). Studying lives: Psychobiography and the conceptual structure of personality psychology. In R. Hogan, J. Johnson, et al. (Eds.), Handbook of personality psychology (pp. 41-69). Academic Press.
Silvan S. Tomkins
Tomkins, S. S. (1962). Affect, imagery, consciousness. Volume 1: The positive affects. New York: Springer.
Tomkins, S. S. (1963). Affect, imagery, consciousness. Volume 2: The negative affects. New York: Springer.
Tomkins, S. S. (1978). Script theory: Differential magnification of affects. In H. E. Howe, & R. A. Dienstbier (Eds.), Nebraska Symposium on Motivation (Vol. 26, pp. 201-236) Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
Tomkins, S. S. (1981). The quest for primary motives. Biography and autobiography of an idea. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 41, 306-329.
Tomkins, S. S. (1987). Script theory. In J. Aronoff, A. I. Rabin et al. (Eds.), The emergence of personality: Michigan State University-Henry A. Murray lectures in personality (pp. 147-216). New York: Springer Publishing Co.
Tomkins, S. S. (1991). Affect, imagery, consciousness. Volume 3: The negative affects: Anger and fear. New York: Springer Publishing Company.
Tomkins, S. S. (1992). Affect, imagery, consciousness. Volume 4: Cognition: Duplication and transformation of information. New York: Springer Publishing Company.
Narrative Psychology: Internet and Resource Guide