The Ancestor Effect

Published: September 9, 2013 / 0 Comments

psychology

How often do you wish that you could speak to your great-great grandparents; ask them the questions you want answered about your family history: where you really come from, how you got here and what happened along the way? Sure, you’ve heard the anecdotes, hazily recalled and retold by your parents and their parents before them, but it’s not quite the same as hearing it firsthand.

Discovering the stories of our ancestors is not only fascinating but also emotionally and psychologically beneficial. A study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology showed that test subjects who simply thought about their ancestors prior to completing a problem-solving test performed better than those who didn’t. Apart from enhancing intellectual performance, research also revealed that those who reflected on their ancestry felt more ‘in control’ of their lives than those who didn’t.

These results, showing the Ancestor Effect, may be surprising, but experts believe that simply thinking of our predecessors (who were able to overcome serious hardships, such as illness and war) reminds us that we too have the ability to endure and succeed, even when the going gets tough.

For millennia, temporal expanses between generations have meant that we could never really know the true stories of our forebears. But like with many things in life, modern technology has had the power to seemingly transcend the barriers of time and space. Developed in 2010 by South African radio journalist and former history teacher Lisa Chait, The Life Stories Project gives current generations the chance to ‘talk across time’ to their descendants. By employing a professional camera crew and expert interviewers and editors to record their family stories, participants are able to give the gift of history to their familial heirs.

Chait will explore the power of recording life stories for future generations at SACAP’s Psychology Festival of Learning, which takes place on SACAP’s Cape Town Campus on Wednesday and Thursday this week.

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