Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

M.A. in Psychology



First Advisor

Kelly G. Wilson

Second Advisor

Alan M. Gross

Third Advisor

Michael Allen

Relational Format



Written disclosure participants have experienced numerous psychological and physiological benefits, as compared to those who wrote about neutral topics (Baikie & Wilhelm, 2005; Corter & Petrie, 2011; Frattaroli, 2006; Pennebaker & Chung, in press). Given the beneficial results of expressive writing commonly found among healthy participants, exploration of this method was expanded to broader populations with mixed results. Researchers have attempted to provide a rationale for why, when, and with whom written disclosure works. As emotional clarity and experiential avoidance have been linked to psychological well-being, this study examined their relative contributions to written disclosure benefits. Participants self-reported on measures of emotional clarity, experiential avoidance, and psychological distress. They then met individually with a warm, friendly experimenter in a private office to receive writing instructions. Participants were randomly assigned to a control writing condition (contents of house) or expressive writing condition (most traumatic, upsetting experience). Participants wrote for three 20-minute sessions, with brief check-ins between sessions to ensure writing task integrity. Upon writing task completion, participants met individually with the experimenter who asked them to return within one week to complete measures of psychological well-being. Between-groups, the expressive condition had a slightly larger reduction in mean distress scores from pre-writing to post-writing; however, this decrease was not statistically significantly different from the control condition. Neither emotional clarity nor experiential avoidance contributed differentially to psychological distress change post-writing manipulation. However, clarity and avoidance demonstrated pre-existing statistically significant relationships with psychological distress. This finding is consistent with the literature. When entered into a regression model, clarity and avoidance each accounted for a significant amount of variance in psychological distress. Additionally, avoidance change accounted for a significant amount of variance in psychological distress change. Future studies that investigate and directly manipulate the relationship between avoidance and distress will be helpful in understanding the directional nature of these change processes. Our findings raise more questions than they answer about emotional disclosure. Future research on theoretically driven processes is necessary to unravel the mechanisms of action in the writing paradigm so it may produce the greatest benefits for as many people as possible.


Emphasis: Clinical Psychology



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