Scientists Report New Method for Measuring Emotional Content in Expressive Writing

March 6, 2012 - How does writing about one's deepest thoughts and feelings lead to improvement in one's health?  Richard D. Lane, MD, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience at University of Arizona, and colleagues brought 25 years of scientific investigation on emotional awareness to bear on this question. Two decades ago, other investigators reported that writing about one's deepest thoughts and feelings about past traumas led to significant improvements in health outcomes, such as fewer doctor visits and improved pain. These findings were consistent with the concept that keeping one's emotional distress bottled up is not good for your health. Since then studies have shown the beneficial effects of writing on health to be detectable but weak.

At the Annual Meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society,  Dr. Lane from the University of Arizona in Tucson, AZ, with Karen Weihs, MD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at University of Arizona, and Annette Stanton, PhD, from University of California Los Angeles reported the creation of a reliable performance measure of the range of emotions expressed in writing samples from women recently diagnosed with breast cancer.

"People tend to think of emotions as subjective states with no objective reality, and assume that they can't be studied scientifically. We found that the number of unique emotion words women use in writing about their breast cancer experience, in just one 15-20 minute writing sample, corresponds to the differentiation and complexity of their emotional experience generally, as measured by the Levels of Emotional Awareness Scale. This gives us the opportunity in future research to examine whether the emotional content in writing is the operative mechanism in influencing health."

Release Date: 
03/06/2012 - 3:17pm