The Role of Affective Shifting in Positively Reframing and Coping with Negative Autobiographical Memories
University of Kansas
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Research suggests that positively reframing past negative experiences is beneficial for coping, but little work has investigated the cognitive abilities underlying this process. Using both experimental and ideographic methodology, this study examined the role of a specific dimension of executive function (EF) - attention shifting - in positively reframing and coping with negative memories. Further, this research compared the roles of affective shifting (shifting between emotionally positive and negative information) and non-affective shifting (shifting attention between non-emotional information). A sample of university students (N = 134) wrote about the three most distressing events that ever happened to them and rated the memories on several qualities (e.g., importance). Then they were randomly assigned to perform a non-affective shifting (NAS), affective shifting (AS), or affective non-shifting (Control) task. Finally, participants were asked to positively reframe the memories. Ratings of mood states were collected at several points and reframing narratives were coded for several indices of positive reframing. Participants in the AS group wrote more about self-growth than the other two groups, but only among those who reported their memories to be highly important. Moreover, faster responding to the two shifting tasks were linked with indicators of better reframing. More resolutions, but not other indicator of reframing, predicted more increase in positive mood after reframing. Shifting was not directly linked with mood changes. Finally, better reframing was predicted by several individual difference factors such as female, worse feelings after memory retrieval and memories of less severe events. Implications for reframing, coping and models of EF are discussed.
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