Order Against the Tide of Entropy: Self-Distancing in Expressive Writing Explained

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Extending the humanistic cognitive science project as envisioned by Hovhannisyan (2018), this article proposed and tested an explanatory model of expressive writing, which has been found to increase self-distancing—a form of processing emotional information that is widely recognized to be beneficial to health. The key principle of our model is constraint, which refers to the far from equilibrium conditions (i.e., order) made possible by thermodynamic work that staves off the eventuality of entropy, in the thermodynamic equilibrium of which all things collapse to the most probable, least ordered states. Investigating self-distancing as a case of constraint generated by the intervention/work of expressive writing leads to novel and testable predictions and explains why the narrative-based writing condition that capitalizes on meaning making was found to be more effective than other writing conditions in buffering against the entropy of emotional disturbances. Richly informed by thermodynamics, Shannon information, and the semiotics of Charles Sanders Peirce, this explanatory model of expressive writing demonstrates the feasibility of drawing upon resources in cognitive science to ground and enrich the explanatory potential of humanistic psychology.

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