We use language every day to express our emotions, but can this language actually affect what and how we feel? A new study explores the ways in which the interaction between language and emotion influences our well-being.
Katharina Kircanski and colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles investigated whether verbalizing a current emotional experience, even when that experience is negative, might be an effective method for treating for people with spider phobias.
In an exposure therapy study, participants were split into different experimental groups and they were instructed to approach a spider over several consecutive days. One group was told to put their feelings into words by describing their negative emotions about approaching the spider.
Another group was asked to 'reappraise' the situation by describing the spider using emotionally neutral words. A third group was told to talk about an unrelated topic (things in their home) and a fourth group received no intervention.
Participants who put their negative feelings into words were most effective at lowering their levels of physiological arousal. They were also slightly more willing to approach the spider.
The findings suggest that talking about your feelings – even if they're negative – may help you to cope with a scary situation.
Published online August 16, 2012 in Psychological Science