Wisdom, Self-Distance, and Adversity: Multimethod Prospective Evaluation of Posttraumatic Character Growth of Open-Mindedness, Humility and Empathy

Focusing on one’s adversity can be a source of strength, facilitating meaning-making and growth. However, adversity can also lead to depression, anxiety, and trauma-related stress. We propose that the self-perspective one takes while reflecting on adversity – i.e., self-distanced (third-person perspective on one’s experiences) vs. self-immersed (first-person perspective) – modulates the effects of adversity for subsequent developmental trajectories in character strengths. We specifically focus on wisdom-related character strengths: open-mindedness, humility, and empathy, which we have previously associated with greater self-distancing in the lab. Two multi-method prospective studies will test whether self-distancing prospectively facilitates expression and growth in open-mindedness, humility, and empathy after a wide range of adverse experiences. Further, we will assess whether the effects of self-distancing on wisdom related character growth may be mediated by the extent to which participants perceive life events as being in flux vs. stable and/or challenging vs. threatening. Study 1 is a 12-month longitudinal survey, measuring changes in expression of wisdom-related character strengths across 4 waves of 2-week daily diaries. Study 2 involves a micro-longitudinal experiment, testing the causal role of self-distancing (vs. self-immersing) for incremental growth of wisdom-related character strengths. Both studies use content-analyses of stream-of-thought reflections, and established trait- and state-level surveys as assessment tools.