The Benefits and Risks of Telling and Listening to Stories of Difficulty Over Time: Experimentally Testing the Expressive Writing Paradigm in the Context of Interpersonal Communication Between Friends

Jody Koenig Kellas, Haley Kranstuber Horstman, Erin K. Willer, Kristen Carr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

12 Scopus citations


The overarching goal of the current study was to determine the impact of talking interpersonally over time on emerging adults’ individual and relational health. Using an expressive writing study design (see Frattaroli, 2006), we assessed the degree to which psychological health improved over time for college students who told and listened to stories about friends’ current difficulties in comparison with tellers in control conditions. We also investigated the effects on tellers’ and listeners’ perceptions of each other’s communication competence, communicated perspective-taking, and the degree to which each threatened the other’s face during the interaction over time to better understand the interpersonal communication complexities associated with talking about difficulty over time. After completing prestudy questionnaires, 49 friend pairs engaged in three interpersonal interactions over the course of 1 week wherein one talked about and one listened to a story of difficulty (treatment) or daily events (control). All participants completed a poststudy questionnaire 3 weeks later. Tellers’ negative affect decreased over time for participants exposed to the treatment group, although life satisfaction increased and positive affect decreased across time for participants regardless of condition. Perceptions of friends’ communication abilities decreased significantly over time for tellers. The current study contributes to the literature on expressive writing and social support by shedding light on the interpersonal implications of talking about difficulty, the often-overlooked effects of disclosure on listeners, and the health effects of talking about problems on college students’ health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)843-858
Number of pages16
JournalHealth Communication
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2 2015


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Communication

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