Cognitive Therapy and Research

, Volume 30, Issue 1, pp 39–51 | Cite as

Emerging from the CAVE: Attributional Style and the Narrative Study of Identity in Midlife Adults

  • Jonathan M. AdlerEmail author
  • Emily C. Kissel
  • Dan P. McAdams

It has been widely documented that individuals who explain negative life events with a depressogenic attributional style (stable, global attributions) tend to have increased rates of depression and other poor outcomes (e.g., Sweeny, Anderson, & Bailey, 1986). The Content Analysis of Verbatim Explanations (CAVE) is a method of assessing attributional style in spontaneously-generated causal attributions appearing in accounts of real events (Peterson, Schulman, Castellon, & Seligman, 1992). Seventy life story interviews obtained from a diverse community sample of midlife adults were coded for attributional style with the CAVE technique and also for the theme of contamination (scenes in which good events turn to bad outcomes, McAdams, Reynolds, Lewis, Patten, & Bowman, 2001). While depressogenic attributional style and contamination sequences were unrelated to each other, both were shown to independently predict self-reported depression and low life satisfaction. In addition, while the observed relationships between depressogenic attributional style and these self-report variables were no longer significant after controlling for neuroticism, a similar pattern was not observed for contamination sequences. This study forges possible connections between cognitive theories of depression and the narrative study of adult identity.


attributional style CAVE contamination sequences narrative 



This research has been supported by the Foley Family Foundation for the Study of Lives. We thank Jennifer L. Pals, C. Emily Durbin, and Susan Mineka for their editorial contributions to early drafts of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jonathan M. Adler
    • 1
    • 4
    Email author
  • Emily C. Kissel
    • 2
  • Dan P. McAdams
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyNorthwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyWashington UniversitySt. LouisUSA
  3. 3.Program in Human DevelopmentNorthwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyNorthwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA

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