The aims of this research were to examine the cognitive and physiological reactions associated with the disclosure of a traumatic event. Cognitive-Experiential Self-Theory (Epstein, 1991; 1998) suggests that there are two separate modes of information processing. One is the rational mode that is based on logic and the other is the experiential mode that is based on emotions and heuristics. The way these two modes of processing may be related to disclosure was examined using 60 undergraduate students at Illinois Wesleyan University. Participants engaged in one of four writing conditions; a trivial topic, the emotions surrounding a traumatic experience, the facts surrounding a traumatic experience, or both the facts and emotions surrounding a traumatic experience. Immediately after completing the writing task, participants engaged in a modified ratio-bias task. The ratio-bias task consisted of 56 presentations of choices the participant had to make. The amount of optimal choices in this task is thought to be related to the mode of cognitive processing the participant is in. Following this task, participants listed the thoughts they were having during the modified ratio-bias task. They then filled out a demographics questionnaire and the Rational-Experiential Inventory. Continuous cardiovascular measures were taken during all periods of the experiment including a rest period prior to the writing task. Writing condition did not have a significant effect on autonomic activation, the thought-listing task, or decisions across all 56 trials of the modified ratio-bias task. However, writing condition did have a significant effect on the first 14 trials of the modified ratio-bias task. These results should been seen as promising rather than definitive.
Carlson '02, Anna, "Examining the Cognitive and Physiological Processes Underlying Traumatic Disclosure" (2002). Honors Projects. Paper 15.