This too shall pass: temporal distance and the regulation of emotional distress

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2015 Feb;108(2):356-75. doi: 10.1037/a0038324.


Does the temporal perspective people adopt when reflecting on negative events influence how they respond emotionally to these events? If so, through what cognitive pathway(s) does it have this effect? Seven studies explored these questions. Studies 1a, 1b, and 2 tested our basic hypothesis that adopting a distant-future perspective on recent stressors (relative to a near-future or control perspective) reduces emotional distress, examining 4 potential mediators of this effect. Study 3 built upon the prior studies by investigating whether their findings apply to a new domain and affect longer-term outcomes. Studies 4-6 centered on a key cognitive mechanism that helped to account for the distress-reducing properties of temporal distancing across our first 4 studies-impermanence focus. Studies 4 and 5 examined whether individual differences in impermanence focus predicted emotional reactions to negative events in a manner similar to adopting a distant-future perspective. They also explored the implications of impermanence focus for broader academic (Study 4) and psychological (Study 5) functioning. Finally, Study 6 manipulated impermanence focus to test whether it affected emotional reactions to stressors in a manner parallel to adopting a distant-future perspective. Together, these findings demonstrate that temporal distancing plays an important role in emotional coping with negative events, and that it does so by directing individuals' attention to the impermanent aspects of these events. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2015 APA, all rights reserved).

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Avoidance Learning
  • Emotional Intelligence*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Male
  • Quality of Life / psychology
  • Time Perception*
  • Writing
  • Young Adult