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The Benefits of Writing with Positive Emotions

Discuss about the Health Benefits about Writing Positive Emotions.

Most of the studies mentioned about the writing experience are associated with the writing about the negative emotions. It is evident from the literature that, writing about the negative emotions is not beneficial for the health improvement (King, 2002). Other the other hand research has suggested that use of high level of positive emotion words and low level of negative emotion words, leads to the improvement in the health. Benefits of the writing include gaining the experience of evidence and narrating it. Research has also shown that usage of positive words in the writing and in the expression is associated with the longer duration of life (Isen, 1999; Isen, 2001).

(Pennebaker & Francis) 1996, incorporated 72 student participants comprising of 44 females and 28 males. Authors requested students to write about their college experience. Writing assignment was conducted for three consecutive days. Writing assignment comprised of reflection of the thoughts and emotions about the experience in the college. Participants were divided into control and experimental group. Control group participants were requested not to write about their emotions and experimental group participants were requested to write about their emotions. Questionnaires were collected on the last day of the writing assignment. This questionnaire evaluated mood and beliefs of participants about their writing. Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) was applied for the text analysis. These word counts were related to the specific scales. Study didn’t find significant difference in the expression of sadness and happiness among the participants. Health checkup visits were significantly reduced in the experimental group in comparison to the control group following two months of the test. There was improvement in the grade point average (GPA) in the experimental group in comparison to the control group. From this study it is evident that use of more positive words lead to the health improvement and use of insightful and causal language lead to improvement in the health. In this study students were evaluated based on the different criteria like self-assessment, long duration effects on both health and academic performance and experimental based cognitive improvement.

(Burtona & King) 2004, incorporated 90 undergraduates students and these participants were divided in the intensely positive experience (48) and control topic (42).  Three days writing sessions were conducted of 20 minutes each. Before and after each writing sessions, mood forms were filled by the participants. Scale of positive and negative words were rated on 1 – 7scale.  Participants were educated to write mainly about their wonderful and happiest experience in the life. Participants were instructed to imagine their experience and write about it in detail. This writing should incorporate participant’s feelings, thoughts and emotions. Participants were asked to visit the health centers for three months prior to and three months after the completion of written rest. For this duration health record of participants were maintained for regular health check-ups and injuries. Evaluations of these essays were done by two independent raters and LIWC. Participants in the experimental group exhibited higher positive emotion and there was no significant effect on the negative emotions. In control group there was no change in either positive or negative emotion. Based on the data obtained from the healthcare centers it was evident that participants belong to experimental group had less health problems as compared to the control group participants.    

Studies about Writing Positive Emotions

(Pennebaker &  Seagal) 1999, asked students to write for 15 minutes for four consecutive days. Students belongs to experimental group were requested to write about emotional experience and students in the control group were asked to write about nonemotional topic. Topics covered in this test were description of the laboratory room or living room. Upon evaluation it was evident that writing of the students in the experimental was with high level emotions. Students in the experimental group also reported that writing test was very meaningful and valuable for them. Participants in the experimental group were interested in participating such writing test repeatedly. Students in both experimental and control group were asked to visit health care centers before and after the tests.  In this study it was clearly evident that, students those were writing about their thoughts and feelings were having less number of health care visits post test.  

Broaden and built theory of positive emotions: Broaden and built theory states that positive emotions broaden the consciousness and promote the individual for innovative, diverse and exploratory thoughts and actions. Consequently, these broadened thoughts build skills and resources in the individual. Broaden and build theory was applied in the writing exercise about positive emotions. Burton and King, (2004), demonstrated that writing about positive emotions resulted in the increased happiness in the participants and there was less visits to the health care centers for illness.

Research Question: “Does a person’s mood change according to their writing?”

Hypothesis: “Writing a positive experience will lead to increase in positive mood.”

Participants were 77 (60 females) undergraduate students from an Australian tertiary education institution. The mean age of the participants was 30.18 years (SD = 9.17); male mean age was 30.05 (SD = 7.52), and female mean age was 30.22 (SD = 9.60).

The Ego-Resiliency Scale (ER-89; Block &Kremen, 1996). This 14 item measure of trait resiliency uses a 4-point Likert scale, ranging from does not apply at all  (1) to  applies very strongly (4). The scale is reportedly highly reliable (α = .76) with example items including: ‘I am more curious than most people’ and ‘I quickly get over and recover from being startled’. Resiliency was calculated by summing scores from all 14 items with higher scores indicating greater resiliency. 

Positive and Negative Affectivity Scale (Watson, Clark, &Tellegen, 1998). This 20-item scale was used to assess positive and negative ambient mood. Participants were asked to rate the extent to which they felt the emotions 'right now' on a 5-point Likert scale, ranging from very slightly or not at all (1) to extremely (5). Both the positive mood scale (α = 0.90) and the negative mood scale (α = 0.84) are considered highly reliable. Example positive mood descriptors included interested, excited, strong, proud and inspired. Example negative mood descriptors included distressed, upset, guilty, irritable and nervous. Positive affect is calculated by summing scores from all 10 positive items, with higher scores indicating greater positive affect.

Broaden and Built Theory of Positive Emotions

Positive meaning finding. A series of questions adapted from those reported by Tugade and Fredrickson (2004) were administered in order to assess the degree to which participants found meaning in their described event. To prompt meaning finding, participants completed two open ended questions: ‘What are/were the long term consequences of this event?’ and ‘What is the significance of the event?’ Specific meaning finding questions included: ‘To what extent do you feel you might benefit from this situation in the long term?’; ‘How likely is it that there is something to learn from this experience?’; and ‘How easy is it to find meaning in the described event?’ Ratings for these questions were made on a seven-point scale, ranging from not at all (1) to extremely (7). Meaning finding was calculated by summing scores for these three questions.

Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count 2007 (Francis &Pennebaker, 1996). All written positive disclosure essays were converted into individual word documents and analyzed through the LIWC program. The LIWC program was used to yield descriptive data on the number of positive and negative emotion words, and insight words used in the written disclosure pieces. In addition it was used to generate percentages of insight words used in the extended response positive meaning finding questions. The LIWC program has been found to correlate with judges' ratings in the range of .37 to .81 (Francis & Pennebaker, 1996).

Data were collected from participants in either face-to-face or online first-year classes. Upon commencing the class, participants were introduced to the session as one on emotions. Qualtrics was the software program used to host the online survey. Participants were asked to pay close attention to instructions provided during the testing session. The session commenced with the ER-89, which served as a distraction questionnaire, and the PANAS. Following completion of these, the experimenter informed participants that they would complete a 10 minute writing task and that it was important that they tried to type for the entire 10 minutes. Participants were randomly assigned to the positive, neutral, or negative written disclosure condition. The experimenter stopped participants at the end of the 10 minutes and directed them to continue with the rest of the experiment. The remainder of the test consisted of a post-test PANAS, positive meaning finding and demographic questions. Once completed, participants were debriefed and provided with experimenter contact details should they require further information regarding the experiment.

Research Question and Hypothesis

Prior to running the statistical analyses all data were screened for normality and homogeneity of variance with no violations present in the data set. Reviews of the positive written disclosure statements revealed participants chose to write about a wide variety of positive experiences. The five most common positive experiences included parenthood, establishing a significant relationship with a life partner, travelling overseas, career, and academic achievements. The five most common negative experiences included future career prospects, current employment, financial concerns, mental health, and relationship issues.

Hypothesis 1 stated that writing about an intense positive experience will result in the greatest increase in positive affect. To examine whether positive affect increased, change in positive affect scores were calculated by subtracting the pre-test from the post-test positive PANAS score.  A one-way ANOVA with three levels of the independent variable (positive, neutral, or negative written disclosure task) was performed to test the impact of the written tasks on change in positive affect.  Results revealed that there was a significant difference between the neutral (M = -1.12, SD = 5.76), negative (M = -3.81, SD = 9.54), and positive written disclosure conditions (M = 3.14, SD = 7.34) for change in positive affect scores, F(2, 173) = 12.14,  p< 0.001. Post hoc analyses using Bonferroni adjustments revealed that the differences between the positive and negative, and the positive and neutral conditions were significant to the .001 level for change in positive affect. This finding suggests that participants in the positive written disclosure condition experienced a greater increase in positive affect following the task, compared to those in the neutral and negative conditions.

At the initiation of the study hypothesis was made that writing positive experience would lead to increase in the positive mood. This hypothesis was supported with the results obtained in the current study. It is evident from the results that there is augmentation of positive mood due to the positive writing. This hypothesis was made based on the literature evidences and results obtained were also in agreement with evidences available in the literature. In this study it is evident that negative emotion writing doesn’t have much impact on the health outcome and this observation is consistent with the literature. Obtained results are in agreement with the Broaden and built theory. It is also evident from the literature that positive writing resulted in the augumentation of blood markers for proper immune system functioning. Studies indicated that improvement in the biomarkers for immune system results in the reduced pain, lower consumption of medication and reduced depression in the individual. Studies also indicated that writing about positive emotions results in the augmentation of the t-helper cells and antibody response to different antigens  (Cameron & Nicholls, 1998).  

Participants and Materials

Few studies indicated that feeling of the individual after the writing exercise depends on the individual’s feeling prior to the writing exercise. Individuals who were feeling low in mood prior to writing exercise might feel high in mood after the completion of the writing exercise and individual who were feeling high in mood might feel low in mood after the completion of writing exercise. Writing about the positive emotions brings about both short and long term changes in the mood of the individual (Pennebaker, 1997). Writing about positive emotions exhibited comparable results to the positive talking (Donnelly & Murray, 1991). It is also evident from the literature that men get more benefit from the writing exercise as compared to the women. Research indicated that people who were more aggressive and doubtful got more benefit from writing exercise as compared to the people who were low in these characters. Different studies were carried out with different days and time duration. These studies were 1-5 days duration and 10-15 minutes time duration.  Increase in the duration of writing also increases health benefits of the writing (Smyth, 1998).

This study doesn’t incorporated participants with equal distribution of male and female participants. In this study female participants were more as compared to the male participants. From the standard deviation, it is evident that participants age is in the broader range. These studied should be carried out with participants age in the narrow range. If variability of age is more in as single study, it would give confounding results because different age group people would have different state of mind and their mood and health status would have been different. To get the generalized outcome of this type of studies, it would be better to have both male and female participants in the equal proportion. Future research should be conducted with large number of participants in different parts of the world with participants of different socioeconomic background. From the literature it is evident that writing exercise is not useful in the adults for the improvement in mood and health of adults. However, these studies were carried out in small group of adults. These studies should be carried out in adults of different background. Students in adolescent age are having more rapid development and there is high possibility of inclination towards both positive and negative development. In such students, this writing exercise would be more beneficial because this age is more dynamic and these students would acquire positive changes rapidly. In most of the literature, impact of positive writing on the improvement in health and mood was evaluated upto 3 months after the completion of the test. However, sustainability of these improvements was not evaluated for the long term. More studies should be conducted to evaluate effects of writing in long term upto 10 years after the completion of the test. This positive writing exercise can be applied in different sections of people like prisoners, medical students, crime victims, sufferers of pain due to chronic disease condition and men with laid off from the job (Spera et al., 1994). In these positive moods can be built up using positive emotion writing.

References:

Block, J., & Kremen, A. M. (1996). IQ and ego-resiliency: Conceptual andempirical connections and separateness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 349–361. 

Burtona, C.M. & King, L. A. (2004). The health benefits of writing about intensely positive experiences. Journal of Research in Personality, 38, 150–163. 

Cameron, L.D., & Nicholls, G. (1998). Expression of stressful experiences through writing: Effects of a self-regulation manipulation for pessimists and optimists. Health Psychology, 17, 84-92. 

Donnelly, D.A., & Murray, E.J. (1991). Cognitive and emotional changes in written essays and  therapy interviews. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 10, 334-350. 

Isen, A. M. (1999). Positive affect. In T. Dalgleish & M. J. Power (Eds.), Handbook of cognition and emotion. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. 

Isen, A. M. (2001). An influence of positive affect on decision making in complex situations: Theoretical issues with practical implications. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 11, 75–85. 

King, L. A. (2002). Gain without pain: Expressive writing and self-regulation. In S.J. Lepore & J. Smythe (Eds.), The writing cure, Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. 

Pennebaker, J. W. & Francis, M. E. (1996). Cognitive, Emotional, and Language Processes in Disclosure. Cognition and Emotion, 10(6), 601- 626. 

Pennebaker, J. W. &  Seagal, J. D. (1999). Forminy a Story: The Health Benefits ol Narative. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 55(10), 1243-1254. 

Pennebaker, J.W. (1997). Opening up: The healing power of emotional expression. New York:Guilford. 

Smyth, J.M. (1998). Written emotional expression: Effect sizes, outcome types, and moderating Variables. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 66, 174-184. 

Spera, S.P., Buhrfeind, E.D., & Pennebaker, J.W. (1994). Expressive writing and coping with job loss. Academy of Management Journal, 37, 722-733. 

Watson, D., Clark, L. A., &Tellegen, A. (1988). Development and validationof brief measures of positive and negative affect: The PANAS scales. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 1063–1070.

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