Monisha Pasupathi, Ph.D.Professor, Developmental Psychology
Contact InformationOffice: 634 BEHS
Phone: (801) 585-9175
Research InterestsI study the development of self, identity, and memory, and I'm especially interested in how children and adults integrate experiences within their sense of self.
Hearing and telling stories is one of the human endeavors that span both our ancient and present cultures, from the hunting narrative implied by cave art to the latest Tim Burton film. Despite the advent of sophisticated technology (i.e., internet blogs) and entire economies (Hollywood in the U.S. and Bollywood in India, for example) founded primarily around modern practices for storytelling, we continue to also tell stories in the 'old' ways - in words, face-to-face, among intimates. I believe that these 'old' ways of telling stories create our selves and our relations with others. Moreover, they do so in collaboration, both positive and negative, with family and friends.
My recent theoretical and empirical work has focused on relations between storytelling and self, whether traditionally conceptualized in terms of self-concept ( McLean, Pasupathi, & Pals, in press; Pasupathi, Alderman, & Shaw, 2007; Pasupathi & Rich, 2005), or viewed in terms of the integration of experiences with the self (Pasupathi, Mansour, & Brubaker, in press; Pasupathi & Mansour, 2006). For example, people typically use stories to confirm their views of themselves (Pasupathi & Rich, 2005), but some experiences force people to create stories that account for changes and discontinuities (Pasupathi & Mansour, 2006).
The process of integration is constrained by the capacities that people of different ages bring to bear on it. Very young children lack the psychological understanding (theory-of-mind and related abilities) to connect experiences with a sense of self in a coherent way, and only during adolescence do identity-creating capacities allow integration with a more long-term sense of self. Those same identity-creating capacities may continue to develop into middle-age, as people come to possess a more enduring grasp of themselves and their lifetime experiences (Pasupathi & Mansour, 2006). The integration process is perhaps most evident when people use it to create continuity in the face of experiences that violate their sense of self-continuity.
Such violations occur in many forms, but doing harm is one of the most potentially consequential, both for individuals and for societies. My most recent interest has been in focusing especially on how people integrate experiences that involve violations of justice and concern for others, experiences in which they bear some culpability. Integrating these experiences within the self is a key for the development of moral selfhood, and it is not easy for people to do (see Cecilia Wainryb homepage).
It becomes particularly difficult to do this for experiences that are traumatic, involve extreme violence, and collective disruption. This is the case for children involved in communal and community violence - child soldiers, displaced children, and children in violent communities (Wainryb & Pasupathi, 2007a; 2007b).
People do not integrate experiences in a vacuum. The process of creating stories to integrate experiences is intrinsically social, and much of my past and present interest focuses on the role that listeners play in that process (Pasupathi, 2001). Some of my findings in this area involve experimental manipulation of how listeners respond to stories. For example, people who tell stories to distracted listeners employ less interpretive, psychological language that connects a series of events with their own subjectivity (Pasupathi & Hoyt, under review). They also, relatedly, come to perceive the event they talked about as less consistent with their sense of self Pasupathi & Rich, 2005; Thoman, Sansone, & Pasupathi, in press).
Most recently, I am beginning to look at how children and adults tell stories about moral transgressions to their parents and their peers (see Cecilia Wainryb homepage ). Parents and peers are listeners with different agendas concerning the storyteller's developing moral self, and are likely to help with integrating that event in distinctive ways.
Stories, selves, and morality are also bound up within the context of cultures. Cultures provide different frameworks for the interpretation of experience, and individuals, together with their listeners, choose, reject, accept, and alter those frameworks. In some ongoing work, I am interested in understanding what those frameworks are - particularly those relating to collective memory, how individuals engage in negotiation with them, and how the frameworks themselves emerge out of individual's discursive practices (Wainryb & Pasupathi, 2007b).
Opportunities For StudentsWe are currently seeking volunteer research assistants to help with all of our projects. Depending on individual interests and experience, volunteers may be involved in recruiting participants, assisting with interviews, transcribing audio files, data entry, and data coding. If you are interested in being a part of our research team, please email me (email@example.com) and tell us a bit about yourself. Including a copy of your transcript and academic/employment references would also be helpful.We are always looking for research assistants to work on projects relating to: Social and moral development; Self and identity development; Parent-child interactions; Peer interactions; Group identity and discrimination.For credit only, 2-3 credits, 6-9 hours per week. Students interested in ultimately doing a senior thesis are especially encouraged to apply. Email Professor Monisha Pasupathi (firstname.lastname@example.org) with: GPA in psychology, past coursework, research and career interests long-term. You'll get a response from the faculty member (Wainryb or Pasupathi) or graduate student whose projects have the best fit with your interests.
EducationPost-Doctoral Fellowship, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Center for Lifespan Psychology (1997-1999)
Ph.D., Stanford University (Psychology, 1997)
B.A., Case Western Reserve University (Psychology and English, 1991)
My current graduate studentsTrisha Weeks