Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Paul B. Jacobsen, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Tom Brandon, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Bill Sacco, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Clement Gwede, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.N.


psychology, health psychology, social cognition, self concept, neoplasm


Like others who endure serious stressors, cancer patients often report personal growth as a result of their illness, a phenomenon termed "posttraumatic growth." Although researchers often accept these reports as valid, temporal comparison theory suggests that people may overestimate such growth. According to the theory, remembering the past self as less positive than the present self may serve as an illusory self-enhancement process that allows one to see continual personal growth. Thus, reports of posttraumatic growth may represent perceived rather than actual change in the self. To test this possibility, we prospectively examined 88 individuals with early stage breast (Stage 0, I or II) or prostate (Stage I or II) cancer. Patients completed measures of positive attributes and personal meaning prior to radiation treatment (Time 1) and again following radiation treatment (Time 2). At Time 2, participants were also asked to recreate their Time 1 responses (Recalled Time 1). Difference scores between Time 1 and Time 2 were generated to represent actual change, and between Recalled Time 1 and Time 2 to represent perceived change. Over the three assessments, ratings of personal meaning showed no change. Ratings of positive attributes showed actual positive change, F (1, 85) = 12.88, p = .0006. Patients, however, did not perceive themselves as changing, F (1, 85) = 3.34, p = n.s. Recalled Time 1 ratings significantly overestimated actual Time 1 ratings, F (1, 85) = 4.91, p = .03. Posttraumatic growth was not correlated with actual change, r = .12, n.s., but was significantly correlated with perceived change, r = .27, p = .01. Findings suggest that self-reported posttraumatic growth may reflect perceived rather than actual change over time. In this sample, self-reported posttraumatic growth may have underestimated change since perceived change was less than actual change observed in patients' responses. In addition, results suggest that these patients had a strong bias to perceive stability in the self-concept even when change was taking place, a result that contradicts previous research on temporal self-comparisons.