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J Pers. 2019 Dec 16. doi: 10.1111/jopy.12534. [Epub ahead of print]

Self-distancing promotes positive emotional change after adversity: Evidence from a micro-longitudinal field experiment.

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Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
Autism and Developmental Medicine Institute, Geisinger Health System, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.



This research examines changes in emotionality following adverse experiences in daily life. We tested whether daily self-distancing (vs. self-immersing) in reflections on adversity results in positive change in emotionality. Additionally, we probed the "dosage" effect of repeated self-distancing.


A micro-longitudinal field experiment combined 4-week daily diary and experimental manipulation of perspective during diary-based reflections on adverse experiences to explore the trajectory of change in emotionality. Each day, participants (N = 149) described and reflected on one significant event from that day and rated emotionality. We randomly assigned participants to reflect from a self-immersed or self-distanced perspective.


Self-distanced participants showed a change toward positive emotionality while maintaining the same level of negative emotionality, whereas self-immersed participants did not show changes in positive or negative emotionality. We also observed that self-distancing reached its maximum effect ("dosage") for positive emotionality in the third week of the diary.


Repeated self-distanced reflections can promote positive change in emotionality in the face of everyday adversity. Notably, repeated self-distancing effectiveness has a saturation point. In contrast, self-immersed reflections on adversity do not promote positive emotional change. Together, these observations raise the question how the default self-immersed reflection on traumatic experiences impacts personal growth.


adversity; emotion; emotional change; posttraumatic growth; self-distancing


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