Emotional and cognitive processing in a trauma disclosure paradigm

Susan K. Lutgendorf, Michael H. Antoni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


We previously reported that in a population of healthy students, those able to involve themselves deeply and establish cognitive change during a 3- week emotional disclosure exercise showed the greatest immunologic changes as reflected in Epstein-Barr virus antibody titer decrements. This report examines the process components of this three-session verbal disclosure paradigm to clarify the mechanisms by which disclosure may be related to changes in affect, cognitive processing, and resolution of the stressor. Seventy-six healthy college undergraduates were randomized to a three- session 20-minute verbal disclosure induction in the presence of an experimenter or to an assessment-only control group. Measures of mood were obtained by self-report at each disclosure session, and a measure of cognitive processing of the stressor was obtained following the first disclosure and i week following the third disclosure. Taped disclosure sessions were rated for level of involvement in the session, and transcripts of the tapes were also rated for total word count. Individuals participating in the disclosure intervention showed an increase in negative mood within the first session with a recovery of mood by the last session. Levels of intrusive thought decreased in all disclosure subjects over the course of the study, as compared to the controls whose levels of intrusive thought stayed the same. A model was tested predicting stressor resolution, and cognitive and affective changes from process variables, including depth of involvement, quantity of expression (total word count), and total arousal of negative mood in all disclosures. Greater depth of involvement significantly predicted insight and greater recovery of mood by the end of the study. In contrast, use of more words during disclosure predicted higher levels of intrusion and of negative mood at the end of the study. These findings suggest that involvement in the disclosure process is a key feature in resolution of a stressful or traumatic event, and that it may function independently of affective arousal. In addition, submitting a traumatic event to a linguistic context itself did not seem to be the critical element in facilitating integration and assimilation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)423-440
Number of pages18
JournalCognitive Therapy and Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1999


  • Cognitive processing
  • Disclosure
  • Emotional processing
  • Intrusion
  • Resolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)
  • Clinical Psychology


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