The effects of Pennebaker's writing paradigm on physical and emotional distress
Kearns, Megan Crawford
MetadataShow full item record
Previous research suggests that expressive writing can lead to significant improvements in physical and psychological health. A brief paradigm developed by Pennebaker and colleagues asks participants to narrate stressful or upsetting experiences, with results suggesting that individuals who demonstrate increases in their use of emotional and cognitive processing words and overall narrative organization appear to benefit most from the writing process. The current multi-site study sought to examine the applicability of this paradigm to sexual assault survivors within a college student sample (N = 71) and identify whether narrative content predicted changes in physical and emotional distress. Overall, women in the intervention group used more emotion and cognitive processing words in their narratives, which increased from the first to last day of writing. However, in contrast to previous research, results indicated that increases in emotional and cognitive processing words failed to predict improvements in physical health, psychological health, and traumatic stress symptoms, after controlling for baseline health scores. Average global ratings of narrative organization did predict reductions in traumatic stress. In addition, complex trauma appeared to moderate the effects of expressive writing. Specifically, women with a history of adult revictimization and women with CSA histories appeared to benefit more from the intervention, as evidence by greater reductions in psychological distress. Limitations and implications for future research are discussed.