Beyond the myth of venting: Social sharing modes determine the benefits of emotional disclosure



When individuals experience an emotion, they talk about it afterwards. A popular ‘emotional venting’ belief claims that doing so dissolves the emotional impact. This study tested a model of when and how sharing emotions is beneficial. It predicts that benefits vary according to the listener's response mode. A socio-affective (empathic) mode was expected to buffer emotional distress temporarily. A cognitive (reframing) mode was anticipated to grant emotional recovery. Participants viewed an aversive film and then talked about it with an intimate. The latter was instructed to adopt either cognitive or socio-affective response modes in a 2 × 2 design (cognitive/non-cognitive; socio-affective/neutral). Emotional, cognitive and social benefits were assessed immediately afterwards and again 2 days later following re-exposure to the film. As predicted, emotional recovery occurred exclusively when the listener stimulated the participant's cognitive work. Cognitive variables (basic assumptions) were also positively modified by these conditions. Listeners' socio-affective responses entailed enhanced social integration (i.e. greater proximity to the listener; less loneliness) and an impression of feeling better. These results demonstrated that sharing emotions can lead to multiple benefits depending upon the listeners' response modes: emotional recovery, consolidation of shattered assumptions, social integration and temporary distress reduction. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.