The effects of temporal orientation on reasoning over relationship conflicts
Huynh, Alex C.
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Past research on construal level theory (CLT) has shown that adopting a temporally distant (vs. temporally close) orientation facilitates a more abstract, “bigger picture” representation of events. Furthermore, research on other forms of psychological distance (e.g., self-distance) has linked abstract representations of past interpersonal negative events to positive psychological benefits, such as reduced negative affect. Despite this connection, little work has been done looking at how temporal distance, a form of psychological distance, may also result in positive psychological outcomes. Moreover, few have explored the effects of temporal distance on reasoning within an interpersonal context. Provided the past literature on psychological distance, I hypothesize that a distant temporal orientation when reasoning over a recent romantic relationship conflict will result in greater abstract representations of the past conflict. Given that the context is in an interpersonal domain, I predict that the abstract representation will manifest itself through a more inclusive reasoning strategy, which will lead to beneficial reasoning strategies for the relationship. I test these hypotheses by randomly assigning participants to a present-oriented mindset, or a future-oriented mindset when reflecting on their past conflict. Results from two experiments (Study 1: College students; Study 2: Age-heterogeneous community sample) indicate that taking a future-orientation leads to an inclusive reasoning strategy (i.e., greater non-self centered word use) and also leads to reasoning that is considered conducive to positive relationship outcomes (e.g., lower partner blame and greater expression of growth). Implications for research on psychological distance and reasoning are discussed.