268950 Age differences and cognitive processing in the expressive writing paradigm

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Dane Emmerling , School of Public Health: Department of Health Behavior, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC
Christine Rini, PhD , UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, Department of Health Behavior and Health Education, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Melanie C. Green, PhD , University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Chris Akiba, MPH , School of Public Health: Department of Health Behavior, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC
Rebecca Woodruff, MPH , School of Public Health: Department of Health Behavior, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC
Joseph Simons , Department of Social Psychology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC
Quality of life issues due to psychological distress and ongoing health problems are major concerns for many of the 11.7 million cancer survivors in the United States. Research shows that emotionally expressive writing (EW) that focuses on the trauma associated with cancer results in mental and physical health benefits. Thus, EW holds promise for being a cost-effective, low-burden intervention for cancer survivors. Evidence suggests that cognitive processing is a main mechanism through which EW produces benefits. However, as people age their cognitive processing changes. Older cancer patients have been shown to have both better coping skills and utilization of social support that influences how they process trauma. Yet, few studies have examined effects of age on cognitive processing in EW. Consequently, this study examined whether linguistic indicators of cognitive processing differed by age in a sample of 165 hematopoietic stem cell transplant survivors. Participants ranged in age from 19-79 (M=53, SD=12.5). Participants completed four EW sessions, writing about their experiences before, during, and after transplant. LIWC (text analysis software) was used to analyze the percentage of cognitive word use (an indicator of cognitive processing) in their writing. Older age correlated with using significantly fewer cognitive processing words, r=-.228 (p=.009). Because cognitive processing is associated with reduced psychological distress and better health outcomes, the results from this study indicate a need to study whether older people benefit less than younger people from EW and/or whether there are unique mechanisms through which EW benefits older adults.

Learning Areas:
Public health or related research
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
Describe the evidence for expressive writing’s efficacy with cancer survivors. Discuss age differences in the expressive writing paradigm. Analyze implications for future expressive writing interventions.

Keywords: Cancer, Well-Being

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have been the principal Research Assistant on this data set responsible for all data cleaning, management, and analysis. I have been supported by the Principle Investigator on this study, Dr. Rini, who is an expert in this field. My research interests include research utilization and community based participatory research.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.