Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Dr. Scott Vrana

Second Advisor

Dr. Jared Keeley

Third Advisor

Dr. Bridget Thomson-McInnes


While a growing evidence base suggests that expressive writing about a traumatic event may be an effective intervention which results in a variety of health benefits, there are still multiple competing theories that seek to explain expressive writing’s mechanism(s) of action. Two of the theories with stronger evidence bases are exposure theory and cognitive processing theory. The state of this field is complicated by methodological limitations; operationalizing and measuring the relative constructs of trauma narratives, such as coherence, traditionally requires time- and labor-intensive methods such as using a narrative coding scheme. This study used a computer-based methodology, latent semantic analysis (LSA), to quantify narrative coherence and analyze the relationship between narrative coherence and both short- and long-term outcomes of expressive writing. A subsample of unscreened undergraduates (N=113) who had been randomly assigned to the expressive writing group of a larger study wrote about the most traumatic event that had happened to them for three twenty-minute sessions; their narratives were analyzed using LSA. There were three main hypotheses, informed by cognitive processing theory: 1) That higher coherence in a given session would be associated with a more positive reported valence at the conclusion of that session, 2) that increasing narrative coherence across writing sessions would be associated with increasing reported valence at the conclusion of each session, and 3) that increasing narrative coherence over time would be associated with a decrease in post-traumatic stress symptoms. Overall, initial hypotheses were not supported, but higher coherence in the third writing session was associated with more negative valence at the conclusion of the session. Furthermore, relationships between pre- and post-session valence strengthened over time, and coherence, pre-session valence, and post-session valence all trended over time. These results suggest a collection of temporal effects, the implications of which are discussed in terms of future directions.


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