Effects of Writing About Emotions Versus Goals on Psychological and Physical Health Among Third-Year Medical Students


  • This work was partially supported by the Madison and Lila Self Graduate Fellowship.

Address correspondence to: Annette L. Stanton, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, 1285 Franz Hall, Box 951563, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1563; phone: (310) 267-2835; fax: (310) 206-3566; email: astanton@ucla.edu


A randomized, controlled trial compared writing about emotional topics (EMO) to writing about goals as the “best possible self” (BPS; after King, 2001) and evaluated emotional approach coping, i.e., efforts to cope through processing and expressing emotion, as a moderator of writing effects on psychological and physical health in 64 third-year medical students. In participants with higher baseline hostility, the EMO condition was associated with less hostility at 3 months compared to the BPS and control conditions. Emotional processing (EP) and emotional expression (EE) moderated the effect of experimental condition on depressive symptoms at 3 months; high EP/EE participants reported fewer depressive symptoms in the EMO condition, whereas low EP/EE individuals reported fewer depressive symptoms in the BPS condition compared to the EMO and control conditions. A moderating effect of EP on physical health was also identified, such that low EP individuals who wrote about goals (BPS) had fewer health care visits at 3 months compared to low EP participants in the EMO and control conditions.