Expressive writing moderates the relation between intrusive thoughts and depressive symptoms

J Pers Soc Psychol. 1997 Nov;73(5):1030-7. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.73.5.1030.


The author investigated whether expressive writing enhances emotional adaptation to a stressful event (graduate entrance exams) by reducing event-related intrusive thoughts or by desensitizing people to such thoughts. Participants in the experimental group, who were instructed to write their deepest thoughts and feelings about the exam, exhibited a significant decline in depressive symptoms from 1 month (Time 1) to 3 days (Time 2) before the exam. Participants in the control group, who wrote about a trivial topic, maintained a relatively high level of depressive symptoms over this same period. Expressive writing did not affect the frequency of intrusive thoughts, but it moderated the impact of intrusive thoughts on depressive symptoms. Specifically, intrusive thoughts at Time 1 were positively related to depressive symptoms at Time 2 in the control group and were unrelated to symptoms in the expressive writing group.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Students / psychology
  • Thinking*
  • Writing*