Authoring Esteem: Writing About Vicarious and Personal Life Story Chapters Boosts State Self-Esteem


  • Dorthe Kirkegaard Thomsen Orcid
  • Stefan Pfattheicher Orcid
  • William L. Dunlop


Constructing personal life stories carries benefits for psychological adjustment. We examined whether writing about the life stories of parents (i.e., vicarious life stories) hold similar advantages. In Study 1, we adapted an established experimental paradigm to an online format. Participants wrote either about personal life story chapters or about famous persons (control condition) and completed pre- and post-measures of state self-esteem. We found the predicted interaction as self-esteem increased in the chapter but not in the control condition. In Studies 2 and 3, we added the critical condition of writing about vicarious chapters. Study 2 did not find the predicted interaction. Instead, all three conditions increased in self-esteem. Study 3, which used a new neutral control task (writing about historical events), showed that the two chapter conditions, but not the control condition, increased in self-esteem. This suggests that authoring life stories for both oneself and close others momentarily boosts self-esteem.