Sharing One's Story: On the Benefits of Writing or Talking About Emotional Experience

Kate G. Niederhoffer and James W. Pennebaker

in The Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology

Second edition

Published in print July 2009 | ISBN: 9780195187243
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:
Sharing One's Story: On the Benefits of Writing or Talking About Emotional Experience

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  • Social Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology



Over two decades of research devoted to the writing paradigm has resulted in substantial findings that translating emotional events into words leads to profound social, psychological, and neural changes. How and why would constructing stories about important personal events be so beneficial? The chapter describes the writing paradigm used in this research, offering an overview of the research findings and examination of its historical antecedents. While the precise mechanisms through which a narrative heals are still unrealized, we review three underlying processes that might explain its power: emotional inhibition, cognitive processes, and linguistic processes that echo changes in social orientation. Most recently, advances in computerized text analysis, in addition to the rapid development of the Internet, have afforded a new lens on the psychological transformations achieved through the writing paradigm. Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) is one such computerized text analysis program that captures style and content words. Originally created to better understand the language of emotional upheaval and recovery, with a focus on content and emotional valence, more recent research has focused on subtle stylistic differences in function words such as pronouns, articles, and prepositions. These “junk words” have proven to be reliable markers of demographics, biological activity, depression, life stressors, deception, and status. The chapter briefly reviews recent LIWC-based research regarding the often-overlooked stylistic components of sharing one's story.

Keywords: coping; emotional disclosure; Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC); linguistic style; writing paradigm

Article.  8571 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Social Psychology ; Clinical Psychology

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