Emotional expression and physical health: revising traumatic memories or fostering self-regulation?

J Pers Soc Psychol. 1996 Sep;71(3):588-602.

Greenberg MA1, Wortman CB, Stone AA.

Health benefits derived from personal trauma disclosure are well established. This study examined whether disclosing emotions generated by imaginative immersion in a novel traumatic event would similarly enhance health and adjustment. College women, preselected for trauma presence, were randomly assigned to write about real traumas, imaginary traumas, or trivial events. Yoked real-trauma and imaginary-trauma participants wrote about real-trauma participants’ experiences. Imaginary-trauma participants were significantly less depressed than real-trauma participants at immediate posttest, but they were similarly angry, fearful, and happy. Compared with control group participants, both trauma groups made significantly fewer illness visits at 1-month follow-up; however, real-trauma participants reported more fatigue and avoidance than did the other groups. Imaginary-trauma group effects could reflect catharsis, emotional regulation, or construction of resilient possible selves.