Monash University
20170412-Md Aris Safree-Thesis.pdf (6.42 MB)
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Probing life scripts for important life events in a multi-ethnic society

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posted on 2017-04-19, 02:27 authored by Md Aris Safree Md Yasin
Cultural Life Script theory offers an alternative explanation to cognitive theory and narrative/identity theory for the reminiscence bump - a pattern where people over 35 years recall significantly more autobiographical memories from adolescence and early adulthood compared to the adjacent life time periods, (but see Janssen, Chessa, & Murre, 2005; Janssen, Rubin, & St. Jacques, 2011). This theory suggests that life scripts - prescribed timing and order of important and transitional life events in a prototypical life course, guide the recollection of autobiographical memories in the adult lifespan. As most studies examining the life script theory has been conducted with the Western Caucasian participants, this thesis, comprising three independent studies, examines if cultural life scripts influence the formation of the reminiscence bump in a multi-ethnic, non-Western society such as Malaysia.
   Study 1 involved 150 older citizens, aged between 50 and 80 years, from three main ethnic coommunities (i.e., Malay, Chinese, and Indian) in Malaysia who completed two separate tasks in one-month interval. In the first task, they estimated ages when a hypothetical new born baby of their own gender would experience six positive and six negative events in his/her future life. In the second task, the participants reported ages when they personally experienced those events. The first task was meant to generate life script data, while the second task was to obtain the life story data. Half of the participants produced life script data first and then then life story data, while the other half followed the reverse order. Participants were randomly assigned to either of the two orders of the tasks. The ultimate purpose was to see if the age distribution curves for the life script and life story data overlapped with a particular focus on the reminiscence bump period. The results showed bumps for five out of six positive events (happiest, most important, most in love, highest success, and most proud event) in the life script data across all three ethnic groups. The results also indicated reminiscence bumps for three out of six positive events (happiest, most important, and most in love) in the life story data. The results, however, did not show any bump for the negative events in both sets of data. It can therefore be suggested that the bumps for three positive events were guided by the cultural life scripts.
   Study 2 involved 300 younger adults, ranging in age from 20-30 years, who produced life script data for three different cultures; own culture (Malaysian culture), an unfamiliar human culture (Congo, Africa), and a fictitious alien culture. Participants were assigned to those three conditions randomly. The purpose was to see if people utilize their own life script semantic knowledge to estimate the timing for events likely to occur in the life of an average person hailed from an unfamiliar human culture. One third of the participants were requested to list the ten most important events that might occur in a prototypical person’s life in their own culture, one third for an unfamiliar human culture, and the remaining one third for a non-human alien culture. After listing the events, all three groups estimated the ages when those events would occur. Again, despite slight variations in the timing, reminiscence bumps were detected only for positive events, but not for negative events, irrespective of the culture they considered. The event types were further examined and grouped according to five themes (education, work, relationship, social-cultural, and others) to examine if there were any variation in the reminiscence bump periods for those themes. This analysis was performed separately for three cultural conditions as well. The distribution of estimated age-at-event across all three conditions showed clear bumps for work, relationship and social-cultural themes. The temporal distribution for events under the education theme contained two bumps, one representing the typical bump and another covering the middle childhood period. However, there was no bump for events falling under the “others” category.
   Study 3 compared cultural life scripts produced by 94 young homosexuals (41 Malay, 28 Chinese and 25 Indian) and 103 young heterosexual individuals (43 Malay, 30 Chinese and 30 Indian). Utilizing the same method used in Study 2, cultural life scripts data were accumulated. The purpose was to see if homosexuals, a subculture that often deviates from the mainstream culture’s values and expectations, hold different life scripts from the dominant heterosexual culture in Malaysia. The participants were instructed to think about a new born baby of their own sexual orientation and list the ten most important events that might occur in that baby’s future life. They were then requested to offer the approximate ages when those events might occur. The distribution of estimated age-at-event in both groups revealed reminiscence bumps for the positive events, but nothing so for the negative events. The bump periods for both groups were identical. Further investigation on the five themes of the events (education, work, relationship, social-cultural, and others) also yielded the same results as Study 2 in which both homosexual and heterosexual individuals showed typical single bumps only for work, relationship, and social-cultural themes. The education-related events contained two bumps as they were observed in Study 2, and no bump for the events falling in “others” category.
   The results generally revealed that people utilize the same life script semantic knowledge that they have acquired from their own culture to estimate timing for events likely to occur in other unfamiliar cultures. Members of a subculture such as homosexuality hold similar life script semantic knowledge as the members of the dominant heterosexual culture do. The overall findings signify the plausibility of the cultural life script theory as well as its universality of its application; the recollection of the most positive and transitional life events are likely to be guided by the cultural life scripts and these events are generally observed to occur during adolescence and early adulthood, which is, however, not the case for negative events.


Principal supervisor

Shamsul Haque

Additional supervisor 1

Miriam Sang-Ah Park

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Jeffrey Cheah School of Medicine and Health Sciences

Campus location



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Medicine Nursing and Health Sciences

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