Self-distancing (i.e., creating mental distance between the self and a stimulus by adopting a less egocentric perspective) has been studied as a way to improve adolescents’ and adults’ emotion regulation. These studies instruct adolescents and adults to use visual imagery or language to create distance from the self before engaging in self-regulation tasks and when thinking about past and future events. For example, adults are asked to recall past, negative emotional experiences from either a first-person perspective (no distance) or a third-person perspective (self-distanced). These studies show that a self-distanced perspective allows adults to cope more adaptively when recalling negative feelings. However, the self-distancing paradigm used with adults was not developmentally appropriate for young children. This modified self-distancing paradigm involves instructing children to think about their thoughts, feelings, and actions from different perspectives that vary in their distance from the self while completing a self-regulation task. The paradigm involves randomly assigning children to use one of three perspectives: self-immersed, third-person, or exemplar. In the self-immersed condition, children are asked to think about themselves using the first-person perspective (e.g., “How am I feeling?") and no distance is created from the self. In the third-person condition, children are asked to create distance from the self by using the third-person perspective (e.g., “How is [child’s name] feeling?"). In the exemplar condition, the greatest distance from the self is created by asking children to pretend to be a media character and to think about that character’s thoughts and feelings (e.g., “How is Batman feeling?"). Studies using the self-distancing paradigm with 4-6-year-olds have found that as the amount of distance from the self increases (self-immersed < third-person < exemplar), children perform better on self-regulation tasks. These findings suggest that the strategies implemented in the self-distancing protocol may be useful to include in self-regulation interventions for young children.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The research studies using the self-distancing paradigm described here were supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation (215464) to Angela L. Duckworth, Ethan Kross, and Stephanie M. Carlson. The authors would also like to thank the families and children who participated in these studies and the undergraduate research assistants who helped with data collection and coding.
- Early childhood
- Emotion regulation
- Executive function
- Issue 145
- Psychological distancing