Positive and negative emotional expression measured from a single written essay about trauma predicts survival 17 years later in people living with HIV

Gail Ironson, Lindsay Bira, Emily Hylton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Objective: To determine whether expression of positive and negative emotions measured within a single written trauma essay predicts survival over 17 years in people living with HIV. Methods: This is a longitudinal, observational study of a volunteer sample of HIV-seropositive individuals at the mid-range of disease (150–500 CD4-cells/mm3 with no prior AIDS-defining symptoms). Exclusion criteria included substance dependence, dementia, and/or psychosis. Baseline assessments occurred between 1997 and 1999 and survival data was collected in 2014 (17 year follow up). At baseline, participants wrote an essay about the most traumatic event in their life. Emotional expression was measured by the number of positive and negative emotional words in the essay. The primary study outcome measure was survival from baseline. Biomedical covariates included CD4 count, viral load, age, and antiretroviral medications. Sociodemographic covariates included gender, race, and education. Results: The sample was diverse in terms of age (M [SD] 37.60 [9.07]), sex (70.7% male), sexual orientation (55.5% gay or bisexual), and race/ethnicity (37.2% African American, 30.5% white, 28.0% Hispanic, and 4.3% other). Positive, negative, and total emotional expression predicted greater survival (ps < 0.015). Those in the top third of total emotional expression had 3.83 times the survival rate (95% CI: 1.62, 9.02) of those in the bottom third. Odds ratios were 1.85 for positive emotion expression and 2.18 for negative emotion expression. Conclusions: Both positive and negative emotions expressed in a written trauma essay predict survival over 17 years in people living with HIV. Expressing emotions may have benefits for health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number110166
JournalJournal of Psychosomatic Research
Volume136
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2020

Keywords

  • Emotional expression
  • Emotional processing
  • HIV
  • Positive affect
  • Trauma
  • Written expression

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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