Previous research suggests that writing about stressful experiences results in better health and psychological well-being. In the present study, a multi-ethnic sample of 79 HIV-positive women and men participated in a structured interview, and wrote about either their deepest thoughts and feelings about living with HIV (expressive writing) or their activities in the last 24 hr (control). Sixty-two participants returned for the 2-month follow-up and 50 returned for the 6-month follow-up interview. Oral fluid samples of beta2-microglobulin were taken at the baseline and follow-up assessments to examine the immunological effects of writing. No effects of writing condition were found, but expressive writing participants who included increasing insight/causation and social words in their writing had better immune function and reported more positive changes at follow-up. Results suggest that cognitive processing and changes in social interactions may be critical to the benefits of writing.
Health Psychol. 2017 Apr;36(4):370-379. doi: 10.1037/hea0000449. Epub 2016 Dec 8.
Despite the significant size of the Asian American population, few studies have been conducted to improve cancer survivorship in this underserved group. Research has demonstrated that expressive writing interventions confer physical and psychological benefits for a variety of populations, including Non-Hispanic White cancer survivors. The study aims to evaluate the health benefits of an expressive writing intervention among Chinese-speaking breast cancer survivors in the U.S. It was hypothesized that expressive writing would increase health-related quality of life (HRQOL).
Ninety-six Chinese breast cancer survivors were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 writing conditions: a self-regulation group, an emotional disclosure group, or a cancer-fact group. The self-regulation group wrote about one’s deepest feelings and coping efforts in addition to finding benefits from their cancer experience. The emotional disclosure group wrote about one’s deepest thoughts and feelings. The cancer-fact group wrote about facts relevant to their cancer experience. HRQOL was assessed by FACT-B at baseline, 1, 3, and 6-month follow-ups. Effect sizes and residual zed change models were used to compare group differences in HRQOL.
Contrary to expectations, the cancer-fact group reported the highest level of overall quality of life at the 6-month follow-up. The self-regulation group had higher emotional well-being compared to the emotional disclosure group.
The study challenges the implicit assumption that psychosocial interventions validated among Non-Hispanic Whites could be directly generalized to other populations. It suggests that Asians may benefit from writing instructions facilitating more cognitive than emotional processes.
J Clin Oncol. 2014 Mar 1;32(7):663-70. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2013.50.3532. Epub 2014 Jan 27.
This randomized controlled trial examined the quality-of-life benefits of an expressive writing (EW) intervention for patients with renal cell carcinoma (RCC) and identified a potential underlying mechanism of intervention efficacy.
PATIENTS AND METHODS:
Patients (N = 277) with stage I to IV RCC were randomly assigned to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings regarding their cancer (EW) or about neutral topics (neutral writing [NW]) on four separate occasions. Patients completed the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D), MD Anderson Symptom Inventory (MDASI), Brief Fatigue Inventory (BFI), Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), Medical Outcomes Study Short Form-36 (SF-36), and Impact of Event Scale (IES) at baseline and 1, 4, and 10 months after the intervention.
The mean age of participants (28% stage IV; 41% female) was 58 years. Multilevel modeling analyses, using a Bonferroni-corrected α = .021 for six outcomes adjusted for the correlation among outcomes, revealed that, relative to the NW group, patients in the EW group reported significantly lower MDASI scores (P = .003) and higher physical component summary scores on the SF-36 (P = .019) at 10 months after the intervention. Mediation analyses revealed that significant group differences for MDASI scores at 10 months were mediated by lower IES scores at 1 month after the intervention in the EW group (P = .042). No significant group differences were observed in the BFI, CES-D, PSQI, and mental component summary of the SF-36.
EW may reduce cancer-related symptoms and improve physical functioning in patients with RCC. Evidence suggests that this effect may occur through short-term improvements in cognitive processing.
J Behav Med. 2006 Aug;29(4):335-45. Epub 2006 Jul 15.
Emotional expression and cognitive efforts to adapt to cancer have been linked to better psychological adjustment. However, little is known about the relationship between linguistic indicators of emotional and cognitive coping efforts and corresponding self-report measures of related constructs. In this study, we sought to evaluate the interrelationships between self-reports of emotional suppression and linguistic indicators of emotional and cognitive coping efforts in those living with cancer. Seventy-one individuals attending a community cancer support group completed measures of emotional suppression and mood disturbance and provided a written narrative describing their cancer experience. Self-reports of emotional suppression were associated with more rather than less distress. Although linguistic indicators of both emotional expression and cognitive processing were generally uncorrelated with self-report measures of emotional suppression and mood disturbance, a significant interaction was observed between emotional suppression and use of cognitive words on mood disturbance. Among those using higher levels of emotional suppression, increasing use of cognitive words was associated with greater levels of mood disturbance. These findings have implications for a) the therapeutic use of emotion in psychosocial interventions and b) the use of computer-assisted technologies to conduct content analysis.
J Lang Soc Psychol. 2009 Sep;28(3):281-296. Epub 2009 Jan 5.
This study investigated whether relative changes in cognitive, emotion, temporal, and self-reference word frequencies in repeated narratives predicted improvements in mindfulness skills (i.e., nonjudgmental acceptance of present-moment experiences, observing and describing present stimuli, and acting with awareness) subsequent to narrative self-disclosure. Participants wrote repeated narratives of traumatic or daily events over 3 days. Mindfulness was assessed at baseline and 4 to 8 weeks posttask. Results indicated that relative increases in cognitive processing words (among traumatic events participants and women in both conditions) and present tense words (among all participants) significantly predicted increases in nonjudgmental acceptance, describing, or overall mindfulness. Increases in present tense words appeared to partially mediate the higher mindfulness outcomes of participants writing about daily events when compared with those writing about trauma. The findings suggest that linguistic changes in self-disclosure narratives are associated with improvements in specific mindfulness skills.
Eur J Psychol. 2015 Nov 27;11(4):651-63. doi: 10.5964/ejop.v11i4.991. eCollection 2015 Nov.
Research into the change processes underlying the benefits of expressive writing is still incomplete. To fill this gap, we investigated the linguistic markers of change in cognitive and emotional processing among women with breast cancer, highlighting the differences and peculiarities during different treatment phases. A total of 60 writings were collected from 20 women: 10 receiving chemotherapy and 10 receiving biological therapy. We performed a series of repeated measures ANOVA for the most meaningful LIWC linguistic categories, including positive/negative emotions and cognitive processes, to assess change over three sessions. Results demonstrated a significant increase in the positive emotions category for the entire group of women, with particular relevance for the biological therapy group of women, and a marginally significant (p = .07) greater use of words indicating cognitive processes for women receiving biological therapy. For the negative emotions category time was significant for the whole group of women, showing a peak of use in the second session of writing. Peculiar differences in the linguistic markers of processing trauma were observed between the two groups. Although the writing intervention is a support for both groups of women, it seems to be beneficial when there is a large time gap since the administration of chemotherapy and, thus, when the patient can revisit the experience. The relationship of the illness with life can be rearticulated, and the writing becomes a space for resignifying the traumatic cancer experience.