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Autobiographical Memory, Construal Levels, Emotion, Psychological Closure, Psychological Distance, Unresolved Events
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This program of research consists of three studies centered on the development and validation of a measure of psychological closure along with an investigation of how different strategies for recalling and writing about unresolved autobiographical events inform attributions of closure and aspects of emotion (valence, intensity, and reaction). Study 1 (Ntotal =601) centered on the construction of the Psychological Closure Scale (PCS). This began with a multifaceted conceptualization based on a thorough review of definitions and theoretical contexts. Factor analyses revealed a robust, good-fitting, and reliable structural solution. The PCS contains 42 items that assess seven facets of event resolution: finality, understanding, felt distance, emotional relief, changed experience, less preoccupation, and reduced need to act. Model fit was replicated using independent MTurk (Study 2) and undergraduate (Study 3) samples. Study 2 (N = 182) examined issues of construct validity for the PCS. Convergent and discriminant validity were supported via statistically meaningful correlations amongst the PCS and theoretically related constructs (e.g., unfinished business resolution), along with the lack of correlations with theoretically unrelated constructs (e.g., event impact). Study 3 (N = 351) used a 15-minute randomized control writing paradigm to explore changes in closure and emotion at retrieval and 1-2 days later. Participants selected an unresolved event and were instructed to write about it using one of two narrative perspective shift sequences: third-person to first-person (shift-to-first) vs. first-person to third-person (shift-to-third). First-person entailed recalling and visualizing the event as if through one’s own eyes and writing about it using the pronoun, ‘I’. Third-person involved envisioning the event as if through the eyes of an observer and writing about it using the pronouns ‘He’, ‘She’, or ‘They’ to refer to the self. Participants were then prompted to use one of two mental foci to continue writing about their event: an experience focus consisted of reporting on the event’s concrete details, whereas a coherence focus entailed reporting on its self-narrative significance. The control condition was instructed to think about their event in a “true and honest manner.” All participants completed the PCS, emotion, and exploratory items (cognitive avoidance, centrality of event) immediately following the manipulation and 1-2 days later. The shift-to-first condition reported greater closure, relative to the shift-to-third and control conditions, particularly on subscales pertaining to finality, understanding, emotional release, mental liberation, and behavioural deactivation. These effects were greater when followed by an experience (not coherence) focus, however mental focus conditions showed no difference on closure. The shift-to-first condition also indicated less negative affect, emotional intensity, and reactivity than the other conditions. The magnitude of these effects remained after 1-2 days. All writing conditions showed increases in closure over time along with decreases in negative affect, while the control condition showed no change. The shift-to-first condition also reported less cognitive avoidance and less event centrality to identity and life story relative to the other groups. This research offers a new measure of psychological closure with preliminary evidence of good psychometric properties. It also addresses theoretical and empirical discrepancies concerning the function and adaptive value of imagery and narrative perspectives, identifies effective shift sequences that support greater resolution, and suggests possible mechanisms by which this occurs. Theoretical and clinical implications along with future directions are discussed. Closure, memory-induced emotion regulation, and adaptive self-reflection are thought to be facilitated by features of the retrieval context that support sufficient distance from, followed by engagement with, unresolved past events, elements within the events, and the self as rememberer, tied to the present.
Boucher, Chantal M., "Resolving Distressing Autobiographical Memories: The Role of Perspective in Imagery, Writing, and Self-Reflection" (2019). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 7777.