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Bulletin Personality and Social Psychology The online version of this article can be found at: DOI: 10.1177/0146167201277003 2001 27: 798 Pers Soc Psychol Bull Laura A. King The Health Benefits of Writing about Life Goals Published by: On behalf of: Society for Personality and Social Psychology can be found at: Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin Additional services and information for Email Alerts: Subscriptions: Reprints: Permissions: Citations: at CALIFORNIA DIGITAL LIBRARY on July 19, 2010 psp.sagepub.com Downloaded from
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PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETIN King / WRITING ABOUT LIFE GOALS The Health Benefits of Writing About Life Goals Laura A. King Southern Methodist University In a variation on Pennebaker’s writing paradigm, a sample of 81 undergraduates wrote about one of four topics for 20 minutes each day for 4 consecutive days. Participants were randomly assigned to write about their most traumatic life event, their best possible future self, both of these topics, or a nonemotional con- trol topic. Mood was measured before and after writing and health center data for illness were obtained with participant con- sent. Three weeks later, measures of subjective well-being were obtained. Writing about life goals was significantly less upset- ting than writing about trauma and was associated with a sig- nificant increase in subjective well-being. Five months after writ- ing, a significant interaction emerged such that writing about trauma, one’s best possible self, or both were associated with decreased illness compared with controls. Results indicate that writing about self-regulatory topics can be associated with the same health benefits as writing about trauma. T he health benefits associated with disclosive writing have been demonstrated in a number of studies by a vari- ety of investigators (Smyth, 1998). Typically, these stud- ies have involved asking participants to write about emo- tionally upsetting life events over the course of a few days. Such writing has been shown to relate to superior immune function (Esterling, Antoni, Fletcher, Margulies, & Schneiderman, 1994; Pennebaker, Kiecolt- Glaser, & Glaser, 1988; Petrie, Booth, Pennebaker, & Davison, 1995), reduced health problems (e.g., Greenberg & Stone, 1992; Pennebaker & Beall, 1986), lower skin conductance levels (Pennebaker, Hughes, & O’Heeron, 1987), better adjustment to college (Cameron & Nicholls, 1998; Pennebaker, Colder, & Sharp, 1990), and more quickly finding employment after being laid off (Spera, Buhrfeind, & Pennebaker, 1994). Recently, studies have begun to incorporate dif- ferent writing instructions, obtaining similarly salubrious effects. For instance, Greenberg, Wortman, and Stone (1996) found that even writing about an imagined trauma once for 20 minutes provided health benefits.
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