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.
Health Psychol Behav Med. 2014 Jan 1;2(1):1053-1066. Epub 2014 Oct 29.
The present study assessed linguistic mediators on the effects of expressive writing on health-related quality of life (HRQOL), depression and anxiety following myocardial infarction (MI). One hundred and twenty-one cardiac patients were randomised (expressive writing = 61; control = 60), 98 (expressive writing = 47; control = 51) provided pre- and post-data, with 89 (expressive writing = 43; control = 46) completing the three-month follow-up. The expressive writing group wrote (20 mins/day for three consecutive days) about their thoughts and feelings regarding their MI, and the control group wrote (20 mins/day for three consecutive days) about daily events that occurred during the year prior to the MI. The outcome measures of depression, anxiety and HRQOL were completed pre-randomisation, post-intervention and three months post-intervention; the mediating variables assessed were changes in (a) positive emotion words, (b) negative emotion words and (c) cognitive-processing words. Three months post-intervention, the expressive writing group had significantly higher HRQOL. The positive effects of expressive writing were significantly associated with increases in both positive emotion words and cognitive-processing words across the three days of expressive writing. Expressive writing is a beneficial intervention that may enhance HRQOL among cardiac patients.
Harm Reduct J. 2006 Nov 19;3:34.
Previous research has shown that expressive writing is beneficial in terms of both physical and emotional health outcomes. This study aimed to investigate the effectiveness and acceptability of a brief expressive writing intervention for high-risk drug dependent patients in a primary care clinic, and to determine the relationship between linguistic features of writing and health outcomes.
Participants completed four 15-minute expressive writing tasks over a week, in which they described their thoughts and feelings about a recent stressful event. Self-report measures of physical (SF-12) and psychological health (DASS-21) were administered at baseline and at a two-week follow-up. Fifty-three participants were recruited and 14 (26%) completed all measures.
No statistically significant benefits in physical or psychological health were found, although all outcomes changed in the direction of improvement. The intervention was well-received and was rated as beneficial by participants. The use of more positive emotion words in writing was associated with improvements in depression and stress, and flexibility in first person pronoun use was associated with improvements in anxiety. Increasing use of cognitive process words was associated with worsening depressive mood.
Although no significant benefits in physical and psychological health were found, improvements in psychological wellbeing were associated with certain writing styles and expressive writing was deemed acceptable by high-risk drug dependent patients. Given the difficulties in implementing psychosocial interventions in this population, further research using a larger sample is warranted.