Effects of written emotional expression: the role of positive expectancies.

Health Psychol. 2007 Mar;26(2):174-82.

Langens TA1, Schüler J.

Writing in an emotional way about stressful or traumatic experiences has beneficial effects on emotional well-being and physical health. Yet the mechanisms that underlie these effects still need to be explored. Integrating research on the effects of positive expectancies, the authors suggest that positive effects of written emotional expression may, in part, depend on expectancies induced by writing about emotional experiences.


Two studies were conducted to test this hypothesis. In both studies, participants wrote about either an upsetting event or trivial issues. After the writing period, participants rated their expectancies that the writing intervention would improve (or impair) their emotional well-being over time.


Study 1 assessed the emotional impact of an upsetting event, whereas Study 2 assessed subjective reports of physical symptoms. In both studies, outcome variables were collected both before and 6 weeks after the writing intervention.


The results showed that (a) writing about upsetting experiences induced higher positive expectancies than writing about trivial issues and (b) expectancies associated with written emotional expression were related to a reduction in the emotional impact of an upsetting event (Study 1) and to a reduction in physical symptoms (Study 2).


There may be 2 alternative ways to render written emotional expression effective in reducing negative emotions: (a) by rendering an emotional experience more meaningful and (b) by inducing positive affect regulation expectancies.


A randomized trial of written emotional disclosure interventions in school teachers: controlling for positive expectancies and effects on health and job satisfaction.

Psychol Health Med. 2013;18(5):588-600. doi: 10.1080/13548506.2012.756536. Epub 2013 Jan 16.

Ashley L1, O’Connor DB, Jones F.

Writing expressively about distressing experiences has been found to have beneficial health effects. This study examined the effects of written emotional disclosure (WED) interventions on the self-reported health and job satisfaction of school teachers, and compared standard WED instructions with two commonly used more prescriptive variants. The study also controlled and measured the between-condition comparability of participants’ post-writing benefit expectations. Teachers (final N = 77) were randomized to a control writing condition or one of three WED conditions that varied the number and/or type of experiences participants wrote about. All teachers wrote for 20 min on three consecutive days at home. Psychological health, physical health, and job satisfaction were assessed at baseline, two weeks, two months, and six months post-intervention. Participants’ expectations of benefit following writing were equivalent across conditions. There was no significant effect of any of the three WED interventions, compared to control writing, on psychological or physical health or job satisfaction. There was, however, a significant and sizeable improvement in physical health across writing conditions from baseline to two-month follow-up, and this was maintained at six months. The findings show that control writing can produce comparable expectations of benefit to WED, and are consistent with the possibility that benefit expectancies can effect health improvements following disclosure or control writing. Most previous studies have examined WED with students or patient groups, and the findings also raise an important question about the feasibility of multi-session writing interventions for mid-life working samples. Further studies with occupational groups are warranted, as is further investigation into the role of positive expectancies in WED effects.