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.
Br J Health Psychol. 2008 Feb;13(Pt 1):31-4. doi: 10.1348/135910707X251234.
This study examined the effects of expressive narrative writing in 607 participants. Compared with a control group, the participants randomly assigned to write about their feelings and thoughts after the Madrid train attack on M11 report less negative emotions related to the recall of the collective trauma at a 2-month follow-up after the attacks. However, no effects were found on positive affect, probably because the study had only one writing session of brief duration. Stronger feelings of joy, use of positive words, and low use of negative words in the narratives predicted low emotional activation at follow-up.
Psychol Sci. 2006 Aug;17(8):660-4.
Writing about emotional experiences is associated with a host of positive outcomes. This study extended the expressive-writing paradigm to the realm of romantic relationships to examine the social effects of writing. For 3 consecutive days, one person from each of 86 dating couples either wrote about his or her deepest thoughts and feelings about the relationship or wrote about his or her daily activities. In the days before and after writing, instant messages were collected from the couples. Participants who wrote about their relationship were significantly more likely to still be dating their romantic partners 3 months later. Linguistic analyses of the instant messages revealed that participants and their partners used significantly more positive and negative emotion words in the days following the expressive-writing manipulation if the participants had written about their relationship than if they had written about their daily activities. Increases in positive emotion words partially mediated the relation between expressive writing and relationship stability.
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.