A Multi-Wave Test of Self-Affirmation Versus Emotionally Expressive Writing

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Testing self-affirmation writing against well-established alternatives is an important step in validating self-affirmation writing as an empirically informed clinical exercise. Therefore, this multi-wave study examined the effects of two theoretically distinct writing exercises: self-affirmation and emotionally expressive writing. It was hypothesized that, compared to emotionally expressive writing, self-affirmation writing would elicit higher positive mood and lower negative mood while decreasing psychological distress over time. After completing pretest measures of distress, 152 undergraduates were randomly assigned to a self-affirmation or emotionally expressive writing task. Participants completed the assigned writing intervention three times: at Session 1, 1 week later at Session 2, and 1 week after that at Session 3. Mood and distress were assessed across four points in time: immediately after the first writing task (Session 1), 1 week later after the second writing task (Session 2), after the third writing task (Session 3), and 1 week following Session 3 (Session 4). A growth curve indicated that at Session 2, those completing self-affirmation writing reported lower distress than those completing emotionally expressive writing, and this difference did not significantly increase or decrease in subsequent sessions. The difference at Session 2 was more pronounced for those reporting lower distress than for those reporting higher distress.


This article was originally published as Lannin, D. G., Vogel, D. L., Kahn, J. H., Brenner, R. E., Heath, P. J., & Guyll, M. (2020). A multi-wave test of self-affirmation versus emotionally-expressive writing. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 33(3), 333–351. https://doi.org/10.1080/09515070.2018.1553144.