Date of Original Version




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Abstract or Description

An experimental study was conducted to examine the effects of a cognitive processing manipulation on stress-related growth. Previous work has shown relations between writing about traumatic events and health benefits. In this study, we wanted to examine the effects of cognitive processing on stress-related growth. Thirty college freshmen were randomly assigned to speak about their thoughts and feelings about their transition to college (cognitive processing) or to talk about trivial topics. Each participant spoke into a tape recorder for 15 minutes for three sessions within a 10-day period and completed an electronic questionnaire about benefits and adjustment to college one month later. Cognitive processing was not only manipulated but also measured with a linguistic software program (LIWC) that analyzed the content of the talking sessions. It was hypothesized that students instructed to engage in cognitive processing would report more benefits than those instructed to talk about trivial issues because benefit finding is facilitated by cognitive processing. It also was hypothesized that among students in the cognitive processing condition, those who used the most cognitive processing words would show the most benefits. Results showed college adjustment increased significantly for students in the cognitive processing group compared to the trivial writing group, and benefit finding increased for both groups over time. We found that participants who used more words that expressed anxiety, sadness, insight, and inhibition were more likely to experience benefit finding, while those who used more anger words were less likely to receive benefits from the disclosure. We also found that the cognitive processing manipulation interacted with the perceived stress of adjusting to college to predict several outcomes.


Department of Psychology

Vicki Helgeson, advisor