The physical and psychological health benefits of positive emotional writing: Investigating the moderating role of Type D (distressed) personality

Michael A Smith, Alexandra Thompson, Lynsey J Hall, Sarah F Allen, Mark A Wetherell

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Abstract

OBJECTIVES: Type D personality is associated with psychological and physical ill-health. However, there has been limited investigation of the role of Type D personality in interventions designed to enhance well-being. This study investigated associations between Type D personality and the efficacy of positive emotional writing for reducing stress, anxiety, and physical symptoms.

DESIGN: A between-subjects longitudinal design was employed.

METHOD: Participants (N = 71, Mage = 28.2, SDage = 12.4) completed self-report measures of Type D personality, physical symptoms, perceived stress, and trait anxiety, before completing either (1) positive emotional writing or (2) a non-emotive control writing task, for 20 min per day over three consecutive days. State anxiety was measured immediately before and after each writing session, and self-report questionnaires were again administered 4 weeks post-writing.

RESULTS: Participants in the positive emotional writing condition showed significantly greater reductions in (1) state anxiety and (2) both trait anxiety and perceived stress over the 4-week follow-up period, compared to the control group. While these effects were not moderated by Type D personality, a decrease in trait anxiety was particularly evident in participants who reported both high levels of social inhibition and low negative affectivity. Linguistic analysis of the writing diaries showed that Type D personality was positively associated with swear word use, but not any other linguistic categories.

CONCLUSION: These findings support the efficacy of positive emotional writing for alleviating stress and anxiety, but not perceived physical symptoms. Swearing may be a coping strategy employed by high Type D individuals. Statement of contribution What is already known on this subject? Type D (distressed) personality is characterized by high levels of both negative affectivity and social inhibition, and has been associated with adverse physical and psychological health. Positive emotional writing is known to reduce subjectively reported physical symptoms and increase positive affect. What does this study add? Positive emotional writing was shown to attenuate (1) state anxiety immediately post-writing, and (2) trait anxiety and perceived stress 4 weeks post-writing. The findings demonstrate that positive writing might be a useful intervention for attenuating the adverse psychological effects of Type D personality in the general population. Type D personality was associated with more frequent use of swear words, which may be a coping mechanism used by high Type D individuals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)857-871
Number of pages15
JournalBritish Journal of Health Psychology
Volume23
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2018

Bibliographical note

© 2018 The Authors. British Journal of Health Psychology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of British Psychological Society.

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