Effects of writing about emotions versus goals on psychological and physical health among third-year medical students.

J Pers. 2006 Feb;74(1):267-86.

Austenfeld JL1, Paolo AM, Stanton AL.

A randomized, controlled trial compared writing about emotional topics (EMO) to writing about goals as the “best possible self” (BPS; after King, 2001) and evaluated emotional approach coping, i.e., efforts to cope through processing and expressing emotion, as a moderator of writing effects on psychological and physical health in 64 third-year medical students. In participants with higher baseline hostility, the EMO condition was associated with less hostility at 3 months compared to the BPS and control conditions. Emotional processing (EP) and emotional expression (EE) moderated the effect of experimental condition on depressive symptoms at 3 months; high EP/EE participants reported fewer depressive symptoms in the EMO condition, whereas low EP/EE individuals reported fewer depressive symptoms in the BPS condition compared to the EMO and control conditions. A moderating effect of EP on physical health was also identified, such that low EP individuals who wrote about goals (BPS) had fewer health care visits at 3 months compared to low EP participants in the EMO and control conditions.




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The purpose of the present study was twofold: The first objective of this study was to investigate the relationships between self-compassion, self-esteem, body esteem, and body comparison; the second objective was to test the effectiveness of an expressive writing intervention for fostering self-compassion and positive body esteem. Part 1 of this study included a diverse sample of 299 graduate and undergraduate students (98 Male, 201 Female) from a large southwestern university. Results indicated that higher levels of self-compassion, self-esteem, and body esteem are positively correlated, and all negatively correlated with frequency of body comparison. Additionally, results suggest that self-esteem may account for the correlations between self-compassion and body esteem, and self-compassion and body comparison, indicating body esteem and body comparison may be subsumed under the broader definition of self-esteem. This finding warrants an exploration of body attitudes that relate to self-compassion. A new concept – body compassion – is introduced, which would incorporate dimensions of self- compassion into one’s perception of body. Women reported lower body esteem and a higher frequency of body comparison than men did. Women reported higher levels of common humanity as well. Further, age and education level differences, indicated that younger participants and those earlier in their college career experienced lower levels of self-compassion and self-esteem, and a higher frequency of body comparisons than older cohorts. Of those 299 participants, 28 completed part 2 of the study and were randomly assigned to either a Best Possible Self (BPS) writing topic condition or a control writing topic. Measures were administered after three days of writing and at 6-10 weeks later. Self-compassion, body esteem, and body comparison were not improved through this method of writing. However, self-esteem was found to have increased significantly after writing, suggesting that writing about one’s Best Possible Self may be an effective means of increasing self-esteem. Limitations of the study and directions for future research are discussed.