Performance on written problem-solving tasks as a function of emotive versus non-emotive written self disclosure

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Somers, Kent
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Evidence indicates that significant physiological changes and improvements in status of health occur consequent to relatively brief episodes of disclosure of distressing experiences. These health-related benefits occur unintentionally; they do not appear to occur because of deliberate actions taken to change the status of one's health. Two experiments examined the hypothesis that emotional self-disclosure also leads to improved cognitive processing of verbal information. It was hypothesized that individuals who write in an emotionally expressive manner about their own personal experiences of trauma would perform better on verbal problem-solving tasks than would individuals who write without emotional expression about a trivial topic. In Experiment One, male and female subjects participated in five experimental sessions. For the first three sessions, subjects spent thirty minutes writing about either (a) their thoughts and feelings regarding the most traumatic event(s) they had experienced (Disclosure condition), or (b) an objective, factual description of their activities of the past 24 hours (Control condition). At the fourth and fifth sessions, subjects completed a variety of verbal problem-solving tasks. A multivariate analysis of variance of the seven verbal problems with the writing assignment as a between-subjects independent variable was not statistically significant. A significant result on one task analyzed with an analysis of variance was consistent with the hypothesis that test differences would reveal superior performance for Disclosers versus Controls on verbal problem-solving tasks and therefore was investigated further in the second experiment. In Experiment Two, male and female subjects completed a written vocabulary test, the Revised Repression-Sensitization Scale (Byrne, Barry, & Nelson, 1963), wrote for thirty minutes in a Disclosure or Control condition. and then immediately completed two verbal problem-solving tasks. Despite controlling for differences in written language ability, significant differences between Disclosers and Controls were not evident on the two problem-solving tasks. The Revised R-S Scale demonstrated only limited utility in predicting disclosure. Results are discussed particularly with regard to implications for future research in this area.