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Changing the Stories of our Lives

Dr. Timothy D. Wilson

ABSTRACT: How can we become happier, help teenagers navigate the problems of adolescence, reduce racial prejudice, and help college students adjust to university life? Initially these seem like very different problems. I suggest, however, that they are all rooted in the stories people tell themselves to make sense of the world. These stories, or personal narratives, ultimately determine whether people lead healthy, productive lives or have problems. Sometimes, psychotherapy is called for to help people revise their stories. Often people are at a narrative fork in the road. They aren’t quite sure what to make of their situation or how to explain it. Social psychologists have discovered a promising approach, called “story-editing,” that nudges people down healthy narrative paths. I will discuss story-editing interventions that have been used in a variety of areas (e.g., to help college students experiencing academic problems, reduce teenage pregnancy, increase personal happiness) and discuss the promise and limitations of these interventions.

THE SPEAKER: Timothy D. Wilson is Sherrell J. Aston Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia. He has published over 100 articles in scholarly journals and edited books, primarily on the topics of self-knowledge, unconscious processing, and personal happiness. His research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the Russell Sage Foundation. Wilson was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2009. At the University of Virginia, he has won an All University Outstanding Teacher Award and the Distinguished Scientist Award. In 2002 Wilson published Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious (Harvard University Press). The New York Times Magazine listed the book as containing one of the best 100 ideas of 2002. In 2011 he published, Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change (Little, Brown). The author Malcolm Gladwell said, “There are few academics who write with as much grace and wisdom as Timothy Wilson. I thought his last book Strangers to Ourselves was a masterpiece. Redirect is more than its equal."

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