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An emotional processing writing intervention and heart rate variability: the role of emotional approach


Expressing and understanding one's own emotional responses to negative events, particularly those that challenge the attainment of important life goals, is thought to confer physiological benefit. Individual preferences and/or abilities in approaching emotions might condition the efficacy of interventions designed to encourage written emotional processing (EP). This study examines the physiological impact (as indexed by heart rate variability (HRV)) of an emotional processing writing (EPW) task as well as the moderating influence of a dispositional preference for coping through emotional approach (EP and emotional expression (EE)), in response to a laboratory stress task designed to challenge an important life goal. Participants (n = 98) were randomly assigned to either EPW or fact control writing (FCW) following the stress task. Regression analyses revealed a significant dispositional EP by condition interaction, such that high EP participants in the EPW condition demonstrated higher HRV after writing compared to low EP participants. No significant main effects of condition or EE coping were observed. These findings suggest that EPW interventions may be best suited for those with preference or ability to process emotions related to a stressor or might require adaptation for those who less often cope through emotional approach.

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