Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Program Name/Specialization

Developmental Psychology


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Dr. Michael Pratt

Advisor Role



This dissertation examined the role of the personality features of identity and generativity for the composition of personal narratives and engagement in an environmental domain. Although generativity has been highlighted as a key feature of environmentalism, this work extends the understanding of that link by examining its relationship with, and its emergence in, personal narratives of environmental activists and nonactivists. Narratives were analyzed at three distinct levels, in order to develop a thorough understanding of how generativity might intersect with an environmental personal narrative identity.

In the first study, I examined stories in terms of the features of generative commitment scripts. Significant commitment themes for environmental engagement could be empirically grouped into three broader factors, each of which distinguished activists from nonactivists: personally feeling some special connection with nature, having significant relationships with influential people, and having developed a set of guiding personal values.

In the second study, I examined narratives for specific motive themes reflecting key generative desires of agency and communion: the desire of individuals to make a difference in the world, and to pass it along for the benefit of others. Narratives in this study were drawn from both the environment and the work domains. The stories of activists contained significantly more agentic and communal motive themes than those of nonactivists. Work stories contained more agency themes than environment stories. The stories of male activists contained more agency themes than the stories of male nonactivists in the environmental domain but not in the work domain. For male (but not female) activists, it would seem that the environmental domain is particularly salient in terms of feelings of productivity in comparison with nonactivists.

The focus of the third study was on more structural and discourse characteristics of the narratives. An index of reflective engagement in environmentalism was constructed, based on a composite rating of story quality for the narrated meaning of the event for the participant, the descriptive vividness of the story, and the expressed impact of the events described on the person’s life. Generative concern was found mediate the relationship between environmental identity and reflective engagement in the narratives.

Across these studies, a key finding seemed to be the critical role that generativity plays in the expression of the personal narrative within the environmental domain. The studies each focused on different features of generativity, and yet together, highlighted the importance of a generative feeling of care and concern for the next generation for the expression of the life story in this domain.

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