Emotions Color Health Effects of Expressive Writing

Expressive writing, the art of putting individual thought and feeling on paper, has long been known to improve health and speed recovery. Now, a new study finds this effect may be influenced by the writer’s mental state at the time of writing.

The U.S. study included 86 college undergraduates whose parents were divorced. The students were divided into two groups after an interview in which they first described their feelings about the divorce.

One group was told to write for a total of 60 minutes about their thoughts and feelings about their parents’ divorce. The other group of “controls” was told to write for a total of 60 minutes about a less emotional issue, time management.

Following the exercise, the participants’ physical and mental health were measured by the researchers.

The research team found that both groups reaped cognitive and psychological benefits from the exercise, including lowered levels of stress and improved memory.

The key may lie in the pre-test interview: the researchers believe that, regardless of what they were writing about, talking about their parents divorce “primed” the participants to better process their emotions, even if they were writing about a non-emotional issue (time management).

“These results show that the effects of [emotional] expression are not fixed, but rather are dependent on the writer’s mental context at the time,” study lead researcher Louise Sundararajan, a psychologist at Rochester Psychiatric Center, said in a prepared statement.

I’m curious to read about more on this.