The Psychophysiology of Confession: Linking Inhibitory and Psychosomatic Processes

James Pennebaker, Cheryl F. Hughes, Robin C. O'Heeron

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

255 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

A theory of inhibition and psychosomatic disease suggests that the failure to confide traumatic events is stressful and associated with long-term health problems. We investigated the short-term autonomic correlates of disclosing personal and traumatic experiences among two samples of healthy undergraduates. In Experiment 1, subjects talked into a tape recorder about extremely stressful events that had occurred in their lives, as well as what they planned to do following the experiment. Skin conductance, blood pressure, and heart rate were continuously measured. Based on judges' ratings of subjects' depth of disclosure, subjects were classified as high or low disclosers. Talking about traumatic events was associated with decreased behavioral inhibition, as measured by lower skin conductance levels among high disclosers. Disclosing traumatic material was also associated with increased cardiovascular activity. In Experiment 2, subjects both talked aloud and thought about a traumatic event and about plans for the day. Half of the subjects were alone in an experimental cubicle and talked into a tape recorder; the remaining subjects talked to a silent "confessor" who sat behind a curtain. Among high disclosers, both talking and thinking about traumatic events produced lower skin conductance levels than did thinking or talking about plans for the day. The presence of a confessor inhibited subjects' talking. Implications for understanding the nature of confession and the development of an inhibitory model for psychosomatic processes are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)781-793
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Volume52
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 1987

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psychophysiology
Psychophysiology
Skin
event
Disclosure
Heart Rate
experiment
Blood Pressure
Health
rating
Inhibition (Psychology)
Thinking
Disease

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science

Cite this

The Psychophysiology of Confession : Linking Inhibitory and Psychosomatic Processes. / Pennebaker, James; Hughes, Cheryl F.; O'Heeron, Robin C.

In: Journal of personality and social psychology, Vol. 52, No. 4, 01.01.1987, p. 781-793.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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