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

J Pers. 2021 Feb;89(1):132-144. doi: 10.1111/jopy.12534. Epub 2019 Dec 27.


Objective: 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.

Method: 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.

Results: 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.

Conclusions: 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.

Keywords: adversity; emotion; emotional change; posttraumatic growth; self-distancing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't