Protecting my Self through Language: Developmental Differences in Narrative Accounts following a Self-threatening Experience

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Title: Protecting my Self through Language: Developmental Differences in Narrative Accounts following a Self-threatening Experience
Author: Styers, Mary Koenig
Advisors: Lynne Baker-Ward, Committee Chair
Thomas Hess, Committee Member
Shevaun Neupert, Committee Member
Jason Osborne, Committee Member
Abstract: Understanding how adults perceive and respond to threatening situations has been investigated by numerous social psychologists. However, these researchers have neglected to consider the development of these responses. One notable omission is how individuals at different ages use language to protect their sense of self in everyday negative situations. This study investigated cross-sectional differences in responses to everyday problems, conflicts and issues in salient domains of the self. Fifty-five older elementary students, 51 middle school students and 54 college participants each narrated accounts of two recent problematic experiences that differed in their overall importance to the self and provided ratings of their recollections and psychological responses to these experiences. Participants at all age levels reported that the narrated events differed in their overall importance, intensity and self-relevance according to their level of salience to the self. In addition, there were cross-sectional differences in the density of internal states language, and the relationship between language use and subsequent event sequelae varied by age group. For the elementary age group only, participants who used positive reappraisal in their narratives experienced a decrease in importance and participants who used a higher percentage of positive emotion terms sought less assistance following the experience and reported higher levels of cognitive avoidance. For the middle school age group only, usage of positive reappraisal was associated with higher levels of cognitive avoidance of the experience. Finally, for the college age group only, usage of positive reappraisal was associated with lower levels of cognitive avoidance. The findings are interpreted as indicating distinct patterns of responses to self-threat at different points in development. Further research should investigate language differences in developmental responses to self-threatening situations prospectively.
Date: 2009-11-02
Degree: PhD
Discipline: Psychology
URI: http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/resolver/1840.16/5055


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