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Clin Psychol Rev. 2006 Jan;26(1):66-85. Epub 2005 Sep 27.

Who benefits from disclosure? Exploration of attachment style differences in the effects of expressing emotions.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Utrecht University, Box 80140, 3508 TC Utrecht, The Netherlands.


Pennebaker's disclosure paradigm is a powerful manipulation: writing or talking about emotional experiences has positive effects on health. Nevertheless, the effect does not work for all people and some studies, including those of the highly emotional event of bereavement, have failed to demonstrate any effect at all. This paper reviews empirical evidence and proposes an integrative model to help explain discrepant findings and assess individual differences in the manipulation's effectiveness. Taking bereavement as exemplary of an attachment-related loss experience, it examines the relationship between styles of attachment, internal representations of the self and other, and patterns of disclosure in the coping process. Research has shown disturbances in disclosure among insecurely attached persons. We argue that secure persons are less likely to benefit from the disclosure paradigm, since they are better able to disclose in ways that further the adjustment process in their everyday lives. Targeting persons with insecure attachment styles and providing attachment-style-specific disclosure instructions are likely to increase the power of the manipulation. Our examination of these individual difference patterns is compatible with recent cognitive and linguistic analyses underlying the disclosure paradigm's impact on health.

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