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Ann Behav Med. 2003 Spring;25(2):146-55.

Finding positive meaning and its association with natural killer cell cytotoxicity among participants in a bereavement-related disclosure intervention.

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  • 1Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, USA.


This study tested the hypothesis that cognitive processing about a past bereavement would produce increases in goals and priorities indicative of finding positive meaning from the loss. It was further hypothesized that increases in meaning-related goals would be associated with changes in immune function, specifically increased natural killer cell cytotoxicity (NKCC). Cognitive processing was manipulated using written emotional disclosure. Forty-three women who had lost a close relative to breast cancer wrote about the death (cognitive processing/disclosure group) or about nonemotional topics weekly for 4 weeks. Contrary to predictions, written disclosure did not induce changes in meaning-related goals or NK cell parameters. However, women in both experimental groups who reported positive changes in meaning-related goals over the study period also showed increases in NKCC. Results suggest that prioritizing goals emphasizing relationships, personal growth, and striving for meaning in life may have positive biological correlates but that solitary written disclosure may not be sufficient to induce changes in these goals in response to a past bereavement.

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