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Changes in narrative sense-making over time: The role of mother-daughter communication during conversations about difficulty

Haley Kranstuber Horstman, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The mother-daughter relationship is one of the first and often most important sites for (effective and ineffective) social support in women's lives. Effective mother support helps daughters to make sense of and cope with life's stressors, which leads to improved physical and psychological health. Narrative theorizing suggests that individuals cope with and make sense of their (difficult) experiences through creating and telling stories with others. Likewise, research shows that when individuals' sense-making increases over time, they are likely to experience higher rates of well-being (Pennebaker, 1993). Yet, although narrative meaning-making is largely an interpersonal process (Koenig Kellas, 2005) that often occurs in the mother-daughter dyad (Langellier & Peterson, 1992), little is known about how the quality of mother communication, particularly social support, changes the way daughters narratively make sense of their difficult experiences. The current dissertation investigated the ways that daughters' narratives of difficulty changed over time and with respect to mother communicated support behaviors. Sixty-two mother-daughter pairs participated in a quasi-experimental, longitudinal study. Grounded in the expressive writing paradigm (Pennebaker, 1993), daughters wrote out their story of difficulty at Time 1, discussed the difficult experience in the social interaction lab with her mother two days later at Time 2, and then wrote their stories of difficulty two days later at Time 3, and as a follow-up three weeks later at Time 4. Daughters reported on well-being, negative affect, and positive affect during the storywriting times, and perceptions of mother social support after their conversation at Time 2. Daughters' stories were analyzed for narrative sense-making indicators, including narrative coherence, linguistic content, tone, and frame. Results indicated that cognitive mechanism words, positive tone, and redemptive frames in daughters' narratives predicted well-being change over time, yet often in the opposite direction as hypothesized, and that mothers' empathy, emotional support, perspective-taking, and negative face threats predicted daughters' psychological well-being. Finally, as predicted, mothers' empathy, positive facework, and emotional support predicted increases in daughter positive tone over time, and mothers' use of negative face threats predicted decreases in narrative coherence. Implications for findings, limitations, directions for future research, and potential applications are discussed.

Subject Area

Womens studies|Communication|Developmental psychology|Individual & family studies

Recommended Citation

Kranstuber Horstman, Haley, "Changes in narrative sense-making over time: The role of mother-daughter communication during conversations about difficulty" (2012). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3518914.