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

Anna Dorfman, Harrison Oakes, Henri C. Santos, Igor Grossmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)132-144
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Personality
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
S. Vintan, E. Fisher and T. Shibayuma provided valuable assistance for study recruitment and management, whereas K. Sharpinsky assisted with data integrity cross‐validation. We thank U. Simonsohn for the valuable suggestion concerning an extension of the two‐line test to mixed effects models. This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada grants (grant #435‐2014‐0685), the Templeton Pathway to Character Project, and the Ontario Ministry of Research, Innovation and Science (Early Researcher Award) to the last author.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


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


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