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Language, Emotion, and Health: A Semiotic Perspective on the Writing Cure $0.00
Authors:  (Louise Sundararajan, Chulmin Kim, Martina Reynolds, Chris R. Brewin, Rochester Regional Forensic Unit, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York, and others)
Abstract:
The writing cure, otherwise known as expressive writing, is widely accepted as an effective intervention. Hundreds of studies have shown that writing about one‘s thoughts and feelings for 3 days, with at least 15 minutes a day, has beneficial effects on physical and mental health. Yet, after more than two decades of research, there remains a large gap between evidence and explanation for the phenomenon. The problem, we suggest, lies in the general neglect to gain a deeper understanding of the basic building blocks of the writing cure, namely language. This vacuum can be filled by Peircean semiotics. Peirce‘s triadic circuitry of the sign is explicated and applied to the development of a taxonomy of expressions of self and emotions. This taxonomy has been implemented by a pattern matching language analysis program, SSWC (Sundararajan-Schubert Word Count) to test our theory-based predictions of the health consequences of language use. Two empirical studies of the writing cure that utilized SSWC for textual analysis are presented as demonstration of the heuristic value of applied semiotics.
The writing cure has had an impressive track record since its first introduction by Pennebaker (Pennebaker, 1985; Pennebaker and Beall, 1986) in the eighties. For the past two decades, hundreds of studies have shown that writing about one‘s thoughts and feelings has beneficial effects on physical and mental health (Frattaroli, 2006). But why? What is it about language that its utilization for emotion expression has consequences for health? This question has never been addressed by the extant theories of the writing cure (e.g., Bootzin, 1997; King, 2002; Pennebaker, Mayne, and Francis, 1997). An explanation that seems to have the most empirical support (Frattaroli, 2006) is emotion exposure theory (Sloan and Marx, 2004), which by considering language use as an The writing cure, otherwise known as expressive writing, is widely accepted as an effective intervention. Hundreds of studies have shown that writing about one‘s thoughts and feelings for 3 days, with at least 15 minutes a day, has beneficial effects on physical and mental health. Yet, after more than two decades of research, there remains a large gap between evidence and explanation for the phenomenon. The problem, we suggest, lies in the general neglect to gain a deeper understanding of the basic building blocks of the writing cure, namely language. This vacuum can be filled by Peircean semiotics. Peirce‘s triadic circuitry of the sign is explicated and applied to the development of a taxonomy of expressions of self and emotions. This taxonomy has been implemented by a pattern matching language analysis program, SSWC (Sundararajan-Schubert Word Count) to test our theory-based predictions of the health consequences of language use. Two empirical studies of the writing cure that utilized SSWC for textual analysis are presented as demonstration of the heuristic value of applied semiotics.
The writing cure has had an impressive track record since its first introduction by Pennebaker (Pennebaker, 1985; Pennebaker and Beall, 1986) in the eighties. For the past two decades, hundreds of studies have shown that writing about one‘s thoughts and feelings has beneficial effects on physical and mental health (Frattaroli, 2006). But why? What is it about language that its utilization for emotion expression has consequences for health? This question has never been addressed by the extant theories of the writing cure (e.g., Bootzin, 1997; King, 2002; Pennebaker, Mayne, and Francis, 1997). An explanation that seems to have the most empirical support (Frattaroli, 2006) is emotion exposure theory (Sloan and Marx, 2004), which by considering language use as aninstance of exposure therapy tells us more about the latter than language per se. Another widely accepted explanation is narrative structure (Smyth, True, and Souto, 2001), which claims that verbal expression facilitates the transformation of experiences and memories into a structured ―story‖ (Pennebaker and Seagal, 1999). But Graybeal, Sexton, and Pennebaker (2002) found no correlation between narrativity and health benefits. The use of different types of words has also been investigated (Campbell and Pennebaker, 2003). The finding is that the use of emotion words was not consistently correlated with self-reported emotionality, and that ―style words‖-- such as function words and pronouns-- were more relevant to health status. Not based on any linguistic theory, such ad hoc distinctions of language use seem arbitrary, albeit empirically supported. To date, expressive writing remains a black box, in the words of Laura King: ―First, expressive writing has health benefits. Second, no one really knows why‖ (King, 2002, p. 119). The problem, we suggest, lies in the general neglect to gain a deeper understanding of the basic building blocks of the writing cure, namely language. This vacuum can be filled by Peircean semiotics. 


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Language, Emotion, and Health: A Semiotic Perspective on the Writing Cure