Adult Life Phase Interview (ALPHI) measure

The ALPHI measures experience in adult life from the age of 17 to the current period. As with other Lifespan interviews, it is a semi-structured, time-based, contextual interview, which maps out the adult life in terms of settled periods and change points between these. It then questions within each settled period (or lifephase) concise assessments of chronic stressors within each of five domains (partner relationship, parenthood, social arena, material/work domain and miscellaneous (health, crime etc) as well as globally at points of major life change. Stressors were aggregated in this way to reduce the large amount of data potentially collectable due to the long time period covered. Only chronic stressors were reflected first, because of their established relationship with more severe depressive disorders and second, because those of longer duration were considered more likely to be recalled reliably. In addition to assessing adversity, the ALPHI also looks at involvement of self and others in the adversity and the degree of agency involved as well as the level of helplessness or mastery in coping with such adversity. Each previous (and cunrent) partner relationship is covered in detail in terms of quality of relationship, and summary measures of support during each phase assessed.

Life phases and change-points

Each respondent is first asked to give an overview of the main circumstances of their adult life from the age of 17 (or earlier if left the parental home before), with dates and details of home-leaving, marriages/cohabitations, births of children, adult education and training history, significant career/job changes and major changes in living place/location. On the basis of these the interviewer and respondent negotiate a division of the life course into a number of settled phases, the minimum length of which is six months, with change-points between each involving major changes in roles (e.g. starting university or full-time work), relationships (e.g. starting to cohabit or leaving a marriage/cohabitation), locations (e.g. moving away from home or to another part of the country) or routines (e.g. becoming unemployed). The date at the beginning of each phase is rated and reasons for entrance to, and exit from, a phase recorded. The first change-point is typically leaving the parental home, usually for entry into further education, new housing or cohabitation. Although a 'change point' occurs at a particular point in time, its context is extended to cover the period of three months before the end of a phase and the three months into the new phase. This allows for coverage of any very temporary arrangements associated with the change, given the six-month minimum length of a phase as well as the planning or build-up to enforced change. Further questions ask about each life-phase and change-point in order to determine type and degree of adversity.


ii) Adversity ratings

 Adversity is defined in terms of at least 4 weeks, continuous environmental or interpersonal difficulty, and is rated both within each phase and at each change-point. Within-phase adversity ratings are made in each of five domains: (i) marital/partner role; (ii) parent role; (iii) social arena; (iv)material/work/education and (v) miscellaneous (subject's health or criminal involvement, or 'other' involving geopolitical difficulties). Although a four-week minimum duration for adversity is required, brief trauma experiences including deaths of close others or threats to life and violence are included even if these occurred suddenly within a briefer period. Adversity is measured on a 4-point scale (1: marked; 2:moderate; 3:some; 4:little/none) within each domain for the 'typical' period reflecting the phase as a whole, and 'peak' for the most severe point. The date at the beginning of the peak and its duration is rated. This enables a linkage between adversity and onsets of psychological disorder which is measured in parallel.

Thresholds selected for rating adversity are intentionally high given that the instrument is used in relation to psychopathology. For example, '1:marked' adversity would be rated for violence in a cohabiting relationship, death of any close ties (parent, partner, child), diagnosis of life threatening illness of self or others or for homelessness. '2:moderate' adversity would reflect, for example, frequent arguing/rowing in a close relationship, child's behavioural difficulties requiring treatment or financial difficulties involving unemployment and significant debt. Adversity at '3:some' severity would include less intense or frequent negative interactions with close others, more minor housing difficulties and readily treatable health problems.All severe adversities (i.e. those rated '1:marked' or '2:moderate') were also rated for whether they were judged 'illness-related' i.e. the likely consequence of psychiatric symptomatology or treatment. Examples included adversity in relationships associated with the respondent's own violent behaviour, her police contact due to drug/alcohol use, health problems following suicide attempts or hospitalisation for psychiatric disorder. This scale served to flag adversities likely to be a consequence of the disorder so that these could be excluded from analyses to avoid contamination by the dependent variable of depression.Adversity associated with change-points is rated on a similar four-point scale, but globally with only two per change-point; one for the difficulties associated with exiting the last phase and another for difficulties encountered in entering a new phase. These reflected the peak problem in any domain associated with the change. The same adversity would only be reflected in both the phase and change-point if it preceded the change by more than 3-months and persisted as part of the adverse context of the change.Analyses conducted with the ALPHI show adult adversity to add to childhood adversity in causal models relating to lifetime disorder; show the impact of chronic marital adversity on neglect/abuse of offspring and partner behaviour problems on mother s parenting of her children.The measure was also adapted for use by telephone interview in the longitudinal study of Children in the Community in New York by Professor Pat Cohen and colleagues. This showed high reliability and validity of the instrument, and high correlations with risk and disorder outcomes in the young adults being studied.

Key references

Bifulco, A., Bernazzani, O., Moran, P. M., & Ball, C. (2000). Lifetime stressors and recurrent depression: preliminary findings of the Adult Life Phase Interview (ALPHI). Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 35, 264-275.

Bifulco, A., Moran, P., Jacobs, C., & Bunn, A. (in press). Problem partners and parenting: Exploring linkages with maternal insecure attachment style and her neglect/abuse of children. Attachment and Human Development.

Cohen, Cohen P, Kasen S, Bifulco A, Andrews H, Gordon K (2005) The accuracy of adult narrative reports of developmental trajectories. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 29 (5) 345-355


Five hundred people recall their life story… all kept  in one collection


Memories of childhood and of adult life: adversity, support relationships ...

Reports of coping style, self esteem,
relating styles,
psychological disorders ...