Emotional Disclosure and Emotion Change During an Expressive-Writing Task: Do Pronouns Matter?

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Expressive writing is an effective way to facilitate the emotional recovery from a stressor, but little is known about how adopting a first-person versus third-person perspective while writing affects the disclosure and experience of emotion. The purpose of this study was to empirically examine whether using first-person versus third-person pronouns when describing a stressor leads to differences in the amounts of emotion words used and change in emotion from before the writing to after. Participants (N = 148) were randomly assigned to write about a stressor using either first-person pronouns or third-person pronouns. The content of these writing samples was analyzed via computer text analyses (i.e., anxiety, sadness, and anger words), and participants completed measures of the subjective experience of emotion both before and after the writing task (i.e., change in fear, sadness, and hostility). Path analysis indicated that adopting a third-person perspective led to lower use of anxiety words but heightened use of sadness words compared to the first-person writing perspective. Moreover, participants in the third-person writing condition experienced greater post-writing sadness than did participants in the first-person writing condition. These results suggest that manipulating pronoun use can have a clinical application to help individuals express and experience their emotions more fully.


This article was originally published was Fuentes, A. M. M., Kahn, J. H., & Lannin, D. G. (2021). Emotional disclosure and emotion change during an expressive-writing task: Do pronouns matter? Current Psychology, 40(4), 1672–1679. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-018-0094-2