The impact of motivation on temporal comparisons: coping with traumatic events by perceiving personal growth.

Abstract

Four studies were conducted to investigate the impact of self-enhancement motivation on the temporal comparisons of victims of stressful life events. Study 1 revealed that (a) victims were more likely than acquaintances of victims to report greater improvement in their personal attributes after traumatic life events than after mild negative life events and (b) victims perceived improvement by derogating their pre-event attributes. In Studies 2 and 3, an experimental approach was used to study the impact of threatening experiences on perceptions of personal growth, and similar findings were obtained. Study 4 confirmed that threatening self-relevant feelings play a causal role in prompting self-enhancing temporal comparisons. Taken together, the findings of these studies support the view that perceptions of personal improvement reflect, at least in part, motivated illusions that are designed to help people cope with threatening life experiences.

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