Narrative content in positive and negative written emotional expression and long-term improvements in mood, self-cognitions, and psychological symptomatology in survivors of trauma
Wagner, Kristine Tiffany
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The present study investigated the relationship between narrative content in positive and negative written emotional expression and long-term improvements in mood, cognitions, and psychological symptomatology in 148 individuals who have experienced a severe trauma. Although the writing exercises were experienced differentially, they did not yield differential results. The higher level of distress experienced by participants in the current study may have been largely unresponsive to both the positive and negative writing interventions. Despite the lack of evidence supporting the hypothesized improvements in long-term functioning, results of the current study did support proposed hypotheses regarding the differential use of emotion words between groups. Those who wrote about negative life events used a greater percentage of negative emotion words, while those who wrote about positive life events used a greater percentage of positive emotion words. Those who wrote about negative and positive life events also used a higher percentage of cognitive words overall, fewer words over time, and an increased percentage of insight words and first-person pronouns over time when compared to the neutral writing group. The changes in word use over time are thought to be reflective of individuals' attempts to make sense of, or gain a better understanding of, significant life events. None of the proposed hypotheses regarding narrative features which were thought to be associated with greater degrees of improvement in long-term mood, self-cognitions, and psychological functioning were supported. Statistical issues, the high level of initial distress in the experimental participants, and the insensitivity of the word-count program appear to be largely responsible for this outcome. Qualitative examination revealed several features which were associated with greater and lesser degrees of improvement in the two experimental groups, suggesting several limitations in the word-count program.