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Emotion. 2011 Oct;11(5):1032-9. doi: 10.1037/a0021787.

The effect of self-distancing on adaptive versus maladaptive self-reflection in children.

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Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, 530 Church Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1043, USA.


Although children and adolescents vary in their chronic tendencies to adaptively versus maladaptively reflect over negative feelings, the psychological mechanisms underlying these different types of self-reflection among youngsters are unknown. We addressed this issue in the present research by examining the role that self-distancing plays in distinguishing adaptive versus maladaptive self-reflection among an ethnically and socioeconomically diverse sample of fifth-grade public schoolchildren. Children were randomly assigned to analyze their feelings surrounding a recent anger-related interpersonal experience from either a self-immersed or self-distanced perspective. They then rated their negative affect and described in writing the stream of thoughts they experienced when they analyzed their feelings. Children's stream-of-thought essays were content analyzed for the presence of recounting statements, reconstruing statements, and blame attributions. Path analyses indicated that children who analyzed their feelings from a self-distanced perspective focused significantly less on recounting the "hot," emotionally arousing features of their memory (i.e., what happened to me?) and relatively more on reconstruing their experience. This shift in thought content--less recounting and more reconstruing--led children in the self-distanced group to blame the other person involved in their recalled experience significantly less, which in turn led them to display significantly lower levels of emotional reactivity. These findings help delineate the psychological mechanisms that distinguish adaptive versus maladaptive forms of self-reflection over anger experiences in children. Their basic findings and clinical implications are discussed.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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