Opening Up to Life’s Challenges: An Intensive Longitudinal Study of Stress, Open-Mindedness, and Psychological Growth Following Adversity

Although many individuals retrospectively report feeling more open-minded and receptive to new possibilities after experiencing major stressors (i.e., potentially life-altering adverse events), pertinent longitudinal studies are scarce and have yielded contradictory findings. People may involuntarily distort their perceptions to cope with difficulties. Furthermore, experimental research has shown that minor stressors (i.e., daily problems) decrease open-mindedness by encouraging selective attention to threat. Thus, there is an urgent need to determine whether (or not) major stressors lead to changes in open-mindedness to inform the scientific and public understanding of the consequences of adversity on personality and behavior. To do so, the proposed intensive longitudinal study will:

prospectively assess outcomes (open-mindedness and more general psychological growth) via multiple methods over the course of 12 months after major stressors, or a matched time period for controls;

concurrently test the effects of both major and minor stressors on outcomes, and whether experiencing major stressors predicts reactivity to minor stressors;

examine the role of individual differences in resilience by comparing participants drawn from nonclinical and clinical populations on outcomes.

We will use smartphone technology to maximize feasibility and participant engagement, with the support of McLean Hospital’s Institute for Technology in Psychiatry (ITP).