Effects of positive versus negative expressive writing exercises on adolescent academic achievement

Brady K. Jones*, Mesmin Destin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


A robust body of research has documented how expressive writing about difficult or traumatic experiences can be beneficial across a range of domains. Relatively little research, on the other hand, has documented the impact of expressive writing activities on positive events. In this randomized controlled trial, adolescents (N = 350) beginning ninth grade in three schools serving mostly low-income students of color participated in a 45-min writing workshop. They were prompted to write about either a negative or positive life event, then edit their writing to include themes thought to insulate them from the possible threats to identity that can come with the transition to high school. We find evidence that positive expressive writing activities are more academically beneficial than expressive writing about negative events. Compared with students who wrote about a failure and subsequent resilience, students who detailed how they attained an important success showed a more positive trajectory for absences (β = −.417; p =.008) and detentions (β = −.962; p =.034), and those who wrote about a generally happy life event showed a better trajectory for grade point average (β =.622; p =.043). Exploratory analyses also show that, regardless of condition, including themes of the “self as competent” and “savoring” good experiences was associated with improved academic outcomes. Including themes of “resilience” was not, across conditions, associated with improved outcomes unless students at the same time included “self as competent” themes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)549-559
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Applied Social Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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