Re-appraising stressors from a distance: effects of linguistic distancing on cognitive appraisals and emotional responses to interpersonal conflict

Cognition and Emotion 37 (7):1281-1289 (2023)
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Abstract

Reflecting on stressors from a detached perspective – a strategy known as distancing – can facilitate emotional recovery. Researchers have theorised that distancing works by enabling reappraisals of negative events, yet few studies have investigated specifically how distancing impacts stressor appraisals. In this experiment, we investigated how participants’ (N = 355) emotional experience and appraisals of an interpersonal conflict differed depending on whether they wrote event-reflections from a linguistically immersed (first-person) or distanced (second/third-person) perspective. Partly replicating previous findings, distanced reflection predicted increases in positive affect, but not reductions in negative affect, relative to immersed reflection. Linguistic distancing also predicted increases in motivational congruence appraisals (i.e. perceived advantageousness of the event), but did not influence other appraisal dimensions. We discuss how linguistic distancing may facilitate emotional recovery by illuminating the benefits of stressful experiences, enabling people to “see the good in the bad”.

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