, Volume 24, Issue 3, pp 244-250

Journaling about stressful events: Effects of cognitive processing and emotional expression

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Abstract

The effects of two journaling interventions, one focusing on emotional expression and the other on both cognitive processing and emotional expression, were compared during 1 month of journaling about a stressful or traumatic event. One hundred twenty-two students were randomly assigned to one of three writing conditions: (a) focusing on emotions related to a trauma or stressor, (b) focusing on cognitions and emotions related to a trauma or stressor, or (c) writing factually about media events. Writers focusing on cognitions and emotions developed greater awareness of the positive benefits of the stressful event than the other two groups. This effect was apparently mediated by greater cognitive processing during writing. Writers focusing on emotions alone reported more severe illness symptoms during the study than those in other conditions. This effect appeared to be mediated by a greater focus on negative emotional expression during writing.

We are grateful to John Harvey for his assistance in conducting this study. We also thank James Pennebaker for analyses of journals with the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count program.