From a distance: implications of spontaneous self-distancing for adaptive self-reflection

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2010 May;98(5):809-29. doi: 10.1037/a0019205.


Although recent experimental work indicates that self-distancing facilitates adaptive self-reflection, it remains unclear (a) whether spontaneous self-distancing leads to similar adaptive outcomes, (b) how spontaneous self-distancing relates to avoidance, and (c) how this strategy impacts interpersonal behavior. Three studies examined these issues demonstrating that the more participants spontaneously self-distanced while reflecting on negative memories, the less emotional (Studies 1-3) and cardiovascular (Study 2) reactivity they displayed in the short term. Spontaneous self-distancing was also associated with lower emotional reactivity and intrusive ideation over time (Study 1). The negative association between spontaneous self-distancing and emotional reactivity was mediated by how participants construed their experience (i.e., less recounting relative to reconstruing) rather than avoidance (Studies 1-2). In addition, spontaneous self-distancing was associated with more problem-solving behavior and less reciprocation of negativity during conflicts among couples in ongoing relationships (Study 3). Although spontaneous self-distancing was empirically related to trait rumination, it explained unique variance in predicting key outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Conflict, Psychological
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychological Distance*
  • Self Concept*
  • Young Adult