When chatting about negative experiences helps-and when it hurts: Distinguishing adaptive versus maladaptive social support in computer-mediated communication

Emotion. 2020 Apr;20(3):368-375. doi: 10.1037/emo0000555. Epub 2019 Jan 10.


Does talking to others about negative experiences improve the way people feel? Although some work suggests that the answer to this question is "yes," other work reveals the opposite. Here we attempt to shed light on this puzzle by examining how people can talk to others about their negative experiences constructively via computer-mediated communication, a platform that people increasingly use to provide and receive social support. Drawing from prior research on meaning-making and self-reflection, we predicted that cueing participants to reconstrue their experience in ways that lead them to focus on it from a broader perspective during a conversation would buffer them against negative affect and enhance their sense of closure compared with cueing them to recount the emotionally arousing details concerning what happened. Results supported this prediction. Content analyses additionally revealed that participants in the reconstrue condition used the word "you" generically (e.g., you cannot always get what you want) more than participants in the recount condition, identifying a linguistic mechanism that supports reconstrual. These findings highlight the psychological processes that distinguish adaptive versus maladaptive ways of talking about negative experiences, particularly in the context of computer-mediated support interactions. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Communication*
  • Computers / standards*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Social Support*