Objectives. Women with family histories of breast cancer exhibit significant distress and intrusive cognitions about cancer. The role of intrusive cognitions in adjustment to chronic stressors is unclear. While they may be a source of distress in themselves, they may also be part of a cognitive processing strategy that aids in the adaptation process, particularly if they are accompanied by more deliberate processing such as emotional expression. Applying cognitive processing models of stress, the present study examined the role of dispositional emotional expressivity in intrusive cognitions about breast cancer and distress in women dealing with the stressful experience of having a family history of breast cancer. Two competing hypotheses were tested: (1) emotional expressivity is associated with reduced intrusive cognitions and thus lower distress; (2) emotional expressivity buffers the relations between intrusive cognitions and distress.
Design. Using a cross-sectional design, hypotheses were addressed with multiple regression analyses according to established methods.
Method. Healthy women (N = 104) who had one or more first-degree relatives with breast cancer were recruited from cancer screening programs. They completed questionnaires regarding family history of cancer, emotional expressivity, distress, and intrusive cognitions.
Results. Emotional expressivity was not associated with reduced intrusive cognitions (Hypothesis 1) but moderated the relations between intrusive cognitions and distress (Hypothesis 2).
Conclusions. The data further our understanding of cognitive processing theories of stress and underline the importance of including emotional expression in interventions, helping women to process the stressful experiences associated with having family histories of breast cancer.