Ethnicity moderates the outcomes of self-enhancement and self-improvement themes in expressive writing

William Tsai, Anna S. Lau, Andrea N. Niles, Jordan Coello, Matthew D. Lieberman, Ahra C. Ko, Christopher Hur, Annette L. Stanton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The current study examined whether writing content related to self-enhancing (viz., downward social comparison and situational attributions) and self-improving (viz., upward social comparison and persistence) motivations were differentially related to expressive writing outcomes among 17 Asian American and 17 European American participants. Content analysis of the essays revealed no significant cultural group differences in the likelihood of engaging in self-enhancing versus self-improving reflections on negative personal experiences. However, cultural group differences were apparent in the relation between self-motivation processes and changes in anxiety and depressive symptoms at 3-month follow-up. Among European Americans, writing that reflected downward social comparison predicted positive outcomes, whereas persistence writing themes were related to poorer outcomes. For Asian Americans, writing about persistence was related to positive outcomes, whereas downward social comparison and situational attributions predicted poorer outcomes. Findings provide evidence suggesting culturally distinct mechanisms for the effects of expressive disclosure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)584-592
Number of pages9
JournalCultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2015


  • Asian
  • Culture
  • Expressive writing
  • Self-enhancement
  • Self-improvement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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