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New research project aims to uncover how we humans create our life stories. The scientists behind the project have recently received DKK 4 million from the Velux Foundation.

[Translate to English:] Ny forskning skal afdække, hvordan vi som mennesker skaber vores livshistorie. Foto: Colourbox

Backed by a grant of DKK 4 million from the Velux Foundation, the project “Chapters in life stories” aims to investigate the concept of life chapters. Life chapters are periods in our lives that are based on a collection of memories grouped together because they share certain characteristics. The research focuses on the connection between these different chapters and how chapters influence our self-perception as humans:

With six different studies they will be researching: 1) whether chapters are central to our experience of remaining the same person over time? And 2) how chapters are established? Among other things, the project includes diary studies and experiments, using both young and old participants. Moreover, the researchers will compare healthy participants with patients suffering from schizophrenia. 

“We expect that the project will give way to a range of new theoretical perspectives and methods in terms of how to understand and investigate life stories. Life stories are essential, because they are believed to have an influence on our mental health,” explains Associate Professor Dorthe Kierkegaard Thomsen from the Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences at Aarhus University, School of Business and Social Sciences.

In addition, the project is designed to challenge existing theories about memory, as chapters are in fact a type of memory; one that is not included in the traditional theoretical framework.

What is self-perception?
How do we maintain a perception of ourselves as being the same person, when we obviously develop and change over time? The researchers proceed from the notion that our personal life story is very significant to our self-perception, since our life story can account for how and why we gradually develop to become who we are today. Life stories contain information about periods of stability in our lives - about how each of us has been one way before gradually changing. Having long periods of stability in our lives is significant for who we are and how, across time, we succeed in maintaining a perception of ourselves as being the same person.

Moreover, the researchers want to emphasise and promote this notion that chapters have a significant influence on our self-perception and that they are more important than individual life events.  When our long periods of stability are interrupted by breaks, which in turn lead to new periods of stability, it gives us a sense of being the same person.

Of course, the concept of life stories is not the only thing that has significance to our self-perception; but if, as the researchers are aiming to determine, it does have a role to play, then the chapters of our life stories are more important than our individual life events. Earlier research on the concept of life stories has mainly focused on recollections of single events, and the researchers behind “Chapters in life stories” therefore want to contribute to filling the gap in the research field.

Project participants

Dorthe K. Thomsen from Aarhus University collaborates with the following researchers:

David Pillemer, University of New Hampshire

Norman Brown, University of Alberta

Torben Østergaard Christensen, OPUS at Aalborg Psychiatric Hospital

Further information

Dorthe K. Thomsen

Associate Professor Dorthe Kirkegaard Thomsen

Aarhus University

School of Business and Social Sciences


Tel.: 87165792

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