J Coll Stud Ret. 2010;12(4):407-428.
Several early studies and subsequent reviews suggested that written emotional disclosure (WED)-writing repeatedly about personal stressful experiences-leads to improved academic performance of college students. Yet a critical review of available studies casts some doubt on this, so we conducted three randomized, controlled experiments of the effects of WED versus control writing on grade point average (GPA) of college students. In all three studies, WED writing was implemented effectively-it contained more negative emotion language and generated more negative mood than did control writing. In Study 1, WED did not influence GPA during either the writing semester or subsequent semester among 96 students with headaches. In Study 2, WED had no effect on GPA compared with either control writing or no writing conditions among 124 students with unresolved stress. In Study 3, WED did not influence GPA or retention among 68 academically at-risk ethnic minority students, although secondary analyses suggested some benefits of WED among students who wrote more than once, particularly men. These three studies challenge the belief that WED improves academic performance of college students, and research should examine subgroups of students who might benefit from WED.