Date of Award

2016

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.A.

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Pascual-Leone, Antonio

Keywords

alexithymia; emotional processing; expressive writing; trauma

Rights

CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Abstract

Expressive writing following difficult personal experiences is associated with mental health benefits, but questions remain with regard to how it works and who it works best for. The aim of the current study is to investigate the influence of alexithymia on mental health outcomes of expressive writing. The current study made use of archival data consisting of self-report questionnaires and expressive writing narratives completed by 241 undergraduate students who reported unresolved distress following an upsetting personal experience. Symptoms of trauma-related stress, depression, and anxiety were obtained at baseline and two weeks post-intervention. Text analyses of word use in participant narratives were coded using the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) software. Results from this study suggest that alexithymia is associated with greater pre- to post-intervention reductions in symptoms of trauma-related stress, depression, and anxiety, irrespective of writing condition. However, alexithymia was not found to moderate the effectiveness of expressive writing, as has been reported elsewhere. Nonetheless, text analyses of trauma narratives revealed that, relative to those who are more emotionally aware, those who were high in alexithymia put more effort into seeking out causal explanations in order to minimize or reduce ambiguity and uncertainty. This intellectualized approach to working through distress was found to mediate the association between alexithymia and reductions in trauma-related stress.

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