Publication Date



Open access

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Liberal Studies (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Gail Ironson

Second Committee Member

Eugene Clasby

Third Committee Member

Michael McCullough


The expressive writing (EW) paradigm developed by Pennebaker (1985) has been found to provide health benefits in populations with medical and psychological conditions. Several theories have been proposed to explain the effectiveness of EW such as: the inhibition theory, increased social connections theory, the cognitive adaptation theory, and the exposure/emotional processing theory. Some studies have suggested that the effects of EW on health outcomes are mediated by varying degrees of depth processing (DP). The present study examines differences in emotional expression (EE) and DP in self-identified gay (GM) and straight men (SM), and assesses changes in levels of depression and PTSD symptoms from pre- to post-intervention. It was hypothesized that GM would display higher levels of EE, and consequently DP, in their written essays. This hypothesis was based on the notion that GM are behaviorally and emotionally more similar to women, who typically display higher levels of EE. Lower levels of depression and PTSD symptoms at follow-ups sessions were expected because theories to explain the effectiveness of EW address several common life experiences of GM. Results showed that GM expressed significantly more negative emotion words and were significantly more involved in the writing process than SM. However, when education was controlled for, the findings were no longer significant. The two groups did not differ from each other in their slope of change in levels of depression and PTSD symptoms from pre- to post-intervention, although the SM group displayed a significant within-group reduction in PTSD symptoms. It appears that EW may actually be more beneficial for HIV-positive SM than GM in alleviating PTSD symptoms. Interpretations and implications for future research are also discussed.


Expressive Writing; Homosexuality; Trauma