How we view our own stories, immersed within them or viewing them as outside observer, can have a big effect on our ability to change (see 5/30/07 post). Negative feelings and stress are known to enhance vulnerability to cardiac disease, and a problem with ruminating over these negative feelings or events is that the effort can backfire, and instead maintain or enhance negativity. Ayduk and
Kross ask whether the outcome of self analysis depends on the type of self-perspective that is adopted, self-immersed (1st person) or self-distanced (3rd person).
Their experiments recruited 90 undergraduates who:
...were cued to recall an experience when they were angry and indicated that they had recalled an appropriate experience by pressing the space bar (i.e., recall phase); the computer recorded their recall times. Then they were told, "Go back to the time and place of the conflict and see the scene in your mind's eye." They were then randomly assigned to one of two perspective conditions (the manipulation phase). In the self-immersed condition, participants were told: "Relive the situation as if it were happening to you all over again … Reexperience the interaction as it progresses in your mind's eye."
In the self-distanced condition, participants were told: "Take a few steps back … . Move away from the situation to a point where you can now watch the conflict from a distance … . Watch the conflict unfold as if it were happening all over again to the distant you. Replay the interaction as it progresses in your mind's eye."
At the end students filled out a questionnaires (the recovery phase) rating the extent to which and the intensity with which they re-experienced their original feelings during the experiment. Blood pressure (mean arterial pressure, or MAP) was monitored throughout the three phases of the experiments.
The authors expected and found no difference between the two groups in MAP reactivity during recall. In contrast, participants in the self-distanced group showed lower MAP reactivity than those in the self-immersed group during both the manipulation and the recovery phases of the experiment. (That is, they were more chilled out, had lower blood pressure.)