Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Joseph M. Fitzgerald


The primary aim of this dissertation was to elucidate the process by which we incorporate the life events of others (vicarious events) into our own lives and, by extension, into our own sense of identity. It was hypothesized that vicarious events from within a person's social network can be as germane to identity development as autobiographical events if the vicarious event involves someone with whom the person is socially-close rather than socially-distant and is an event in which the self was more proximal (shared events) than distal (witnessed or hearsay). The extent to which age, gender, dispositional empathy, and the degree of self-other overlap accounted for individual differences in both social closeness and proximity of the self to the event were also investigated. Participants (N = 64; Mage = 22.59, SD = 4.84, range = 18-44) completed a semi-structured interview in which they were asked to recall and write descriptions of three autobiographical and six vicarious events (a shared, witnessed, and hearsay event for inner and middle circle convoy members) associated with a moral value and completed a social convoy model. Results indicated that autobiographical events were rated significantly higher on event phenomenology and event centrality in comparison to vicarious events overall. Among vicarious events, highest ratings of event phenomenology and event centrality were found for events involving socially-close rather than socially-distant relationships, and in events in which the self was more proximal (e.g., shared events) than distal (e.g., witnessed or hearsay events). Older emerging adult females rated all seven event types as higher in event phenomenology and event centrality as compared to younger emerging adult females and males. Dispositional empathy was not associated with event phenomenology or centrality across the seven events. Higher ratings of self-other overlap predicted higher levels of centrality for shared events within close and distant social relationships. For impact, however, as ratings of self-other overlap increased, less proximal events (e.g., witnessed and hearsay events) were rated higher relative to the sample as a whole. Contrary to expectations, no associations were confirmed between self-other overlap and recall, rehearsal, or belief for either socially-close or socially-distant relationships. These results suggest that events which occur in close social relationships and which are attended to simultaneously or "in-the-moment" with another person appear to foster the perception of the self and other as a "unified agent" as compared to events in less socially-close relationships, and in events in which the self was more distal than proximal. These story type effects differed as a function of several individual difference factors (e.g., age and gender) and relationship factors (e.g., self-other overlap). Taken together, these findings demonstrate that vicarious events within close social relationships and in events in which the self was most proximal (e.g., shared events) appears to play a salient role in shaping both memory and identity processes during emerging adulthood.

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Psychology Commons