Effects of Emotion- and Gratitude-Focused Expressive Writings on Incoming College Students' Adjustment.
Booker, Jordan Ashton
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The transition to college can introduce new roles, opportunities, and challenges for growth and adjustment. Effective management of these challenges promotes personal adjustment and academic success (Chemers, Hu, and Garcia, 2001). However, difficulty in managing aspects of this transition introduces risks for dysfunction in emotional, social, and academic areas (Heiligenstein and Guenther, 1996). These risks are exacerbated for students who from underrepresented backgrounds at their college and within their field of study (Strayhorn, 2012). Among undergraduates, expressive writing interventions have been used to improve adjustment. These brief activities of self-reflection were originally used to address past hurts and have been adapted to attend to life's benefits. Reflections on both negative and positive life experiences have been tied to improvements in well-being, social success, and physical health (Emmons and McCullough, 2003; Sloan and Marx, 2004). This is the first study to directly compare effects of expressive writings focused on strong negative emotional experiences with effects of writings focused on positive emotional experiences (gratitude). Furthermore, questions remain about mechanisms of influence for these two writing paradigms. The current study tested the influence of these paradigms on student adjustment during the college transition, and assessed emotion mechanisms specific to each writing paradigm. One hundred sixty-one incoming college students were recruited into an online study during the fall semester. Students reported on emotional, social, and academic outcomes at the third, fifth, and eighth weeks of the incoming academic semester. Students were randomly assigned to one of three experimental groups: a group writing on emotion-focused prompts; a group writing on gratitude-focused prompts; and a control group with no assigned writings. During the fourth week of the semester, students in the experimental groups spent four days writing about their respective group prompts. Students in the emotion-focused writing group showed improvements in willingness to share intimate life events with others (i.e., length of writing, comfort with self-disclosure, recent heart-to-heart conversations). Students in the gratitude-focused writing group showed increases and maintenance of psychological resources (i.e., life satisfaction, involvement in group meetings, instances of studying). I discuss the implications of these findings below.
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