Taking the Long View: Implications of Individual Differences in Temporal Distancing for Affect, Stress Reactivity, and Well-Being

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Abstract

Recent experimental work demonstrates that temporal distancing from negative experiences reduces distress. Yet two central questions remain: (a) do people differ in the habitual tendency to temporally distance from negative experiences, and if so (b) what implications does this tendency have for well-being? Seven studies explored these questions. Study 1 describes the construction and reliability of the Temporal Distancing Questionnaire, a new measure of individual differences in the tendency to place negative experiences into a broader future time perspective. Study 2 establishes a nomological network around this construct, examining the relationship of temporal distancing to other theoretically related constructs. Study 3 tests whether people high in temporal distancing (i.e., “high temporal distancers”) experience greater concurrent well-being, including greater positive affect and life satisfaction and lesser negative affect, worry, and depressive symptoms. Study 4 examines whether temporal distancing predicts well-being measured at the daily level, and across time. Finally, Studies 5a–5c explore a key way in which temporal distancing may support psychological well-being—by facilitating more adaptive responses to negative experiences. Our results demonstrate that the tendency to temporally distance from negative experiences predicts a more positive profile of affective experiences and stress-reactivity that may support immediate and longer-term well-being. Moreover, many of these findings remained significant when controlling for general reappraisal tendencies.

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