The Validity of Self-Reported Growth After Expressive Writing

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Abstract

Previous research has indicated that a single session of emotional disclosure related to a stressful experience can foster the development of posttraumatic growth (PTG); however, others have suggested that perceived growth may serve as a coping mechanism after being reminded of a stressful event. At the same time, theories of posttraumatic growth suggest that there may be both a genuine and an illusionary function of PTG. The goal of the current study was to evaluate the validity of postwriting PTG by measuring growth immediately before and after a disclosure task, as elevations in perceived PTG immediately following the task may indicate that growth was simply being used to cope. Participants were 90 undergraduates from a private, Midwestern university that completed either an emotional written disclosure task or a control task and reported perceived levels of PTG. Results suggest no significant increases in reported growth regardless of condition. Post hoc analyses revealed participants in the emotional disclosure did experience elevated levels of distress, but did not report increased growth. These results fail to support the hypothesis that self-reported growth after expressive writing tasks is merely an illusory coping response.

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