The effects of writing about a future stressful experience on physical health and cognitive functioning

Jonathan Dalton, Fordham University

Abstract

Past research has provided considerable evidence that expressive writing (i.e., self-disclosure) about a past or ongoing stressful/traumatic experience results in a wide range of physical, psychological, and cognitive benefits for the writer. Lepore (1997) found that expressive writing about an impending graduate entrance exam resulted in reduced psychological distress surrounding the exam. However, Lepore (1997) did not examine the effects of the expressive writing about the impending exam on physical health or on exam performance. This study sought to build upon this research by examining the effects of expressive writing about an impending graduate entrance exam on physical health and cognitive functioning (as measured by exam performance). ^ Seventy-six participants who were enrolled in an exam preparation course for the GRE, LSAT, or GMAT were randomly assigned to either an experimental or control group. The experimental group was instructed to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings about the impending exam, while the control group was instructed to write about trivial topics without mentioning their thoughts or feelings. The writing sessions were 15 minutes in length, and an average of 2 sessions were completed (range from 1 to 3 sessions). ^ Results indicate that the experimental group scored higher on the graduate entrance exams than the control group, t(57) = 2.24, p < .05. In addition, there was a trend for the experimental group to reduce the number of visits to a healthcare provider from 8 weeks prior to the first writing session to the 8 weeks following the last writing session compared with the control group, t(56) = 1.96, p = .06, and for the percentage of causal words used in the writing to be correlated with exam score for the experimental group, r(25) = .34, p = .10. The experimental group reported higher levels of positive affect, t(146) = 2.08, p < .05, and negative affect, t(146) = 2.60, p < .05 immediately following writing compared with the control group. Self-reported use of emotion-focused coping was negatively correlated with exam score for participants in the experimental group, r(24) = −.42, p < .05, and the control group, r(27) = −.47, p < .05. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, Clinical

Recommended Citation

Jonathan Dalton, "The effects of writing about a future stressful experience on physical health and cognitive functioning" (January 1, 2004). ETD Collection for Fordham University. Paper AAI3140897.
http://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI3140897

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