A Review of “The Moderating Role of Autonomy and Control on the Benefits of Written Emotion Expression” (Weinstein & Hodgins, 2009)

This was written in response to a Discussion Question for Week 11 in PSYCH-210, Washington State University.


This article is pretty fascinating, as it studies autonomy and control as it relates to self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2000). The basic study investigated whether individuals determined “autonomous” whom display interest and self-initiation (Weinstein & Hodgins, 2009, p. 354) also display “higher well-being, higher energy, and lower memory for the disturbing content” as an initial hypothesis (p. 354). Subsequent hypothesis expected displays of better integration of distressing emotions, and after 48 hours, experience the continued display of the initial hypothesis (p. 354). An additional study was executed for individuals determined “control-oriented” whereby autonomy was primed to see if similar displays could be arrived at (p. 354).


Overall I thought that the study strongly met the criteria of a research study, and strongly relied on operational definitions throughout. The use of diagnostic criteria from other realms and associated realms of theory lend interdisciplinary utility and application. The study is concise, however could be deceptive, because it relies on quite a bit of measures that have been developed through much rigor. I liked this.

The study really makes use of a ton of meta-data from various diagnostics developed the psychological field. I liked how the researchers pinpointed what was being looked for in each diagnostic without going into laborious history of the diagnostic in the introduction; it left, no pun intended, autonomy up to the reader in investigating each diagnostic. The Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (Pennebaker, Francis, & Booth, 2001) immediately grabbed attention. The use of a handgrip exercise tool to measure “energy or ego depletion” (Martijn, Tenbült, Merckelbach, Dreezens, & de Vries, 2002) was really novel. The authors also controlled as best they could for bias, using BIDR, which was good to see mentioned. They even measured Big Five (Gosling, Rentfrow, & Swan, 2003). These researchers collected quite a bit of data that could be used for different sorts for different investigations, Grounded Theory style, without resampling, this is delightful.

What was not liked was that the theory of “linguistic indicators of non defense and processing” (p. 353) relied on a “sense of ownership” that seems culturally biased. There are languages such as Japanese and Chinese that do not necessarily utilize self-referencing in the conveying of deeply emotional communications. Also, some very effective practitioners of meditation eliminate self-referencing yet are proposed to exhibit high levels of autonomy (hint, research study). I think that overall, perhaps, it might be, that emotional processing could take on different forms. B.F. Skinner’s talks with Carl Rogers for example seem full of autonomy yet devoid of self-referencing. It feels like “pinning self-referencing” on another’s lack of self-referencing is also a form of control orientation. Right here in this text, does the author say “I think it feels like” and reinforce the notion of an independent, intrinsic self, seemingly with a soul that is the schema of a culturally dominant ideology correlated to the use of English or does the author say “it feels like” and reinforce the notion of a dependent, changing phenomena, of that is the schema of dominant-less sans-ideological view that is more scientific and congruent with behavioralist understanding? Let the sparks fly (cough, that’s a hint to the ability to process openly the sparks, and assimilate fireworks).


The author is inclined to propose further studies, however would challenge a team of researchers to break through dominant ethno-centric cultural biases to expose a hidden variable that is driving honesty sans self, integration sans identity, willingness sans ownership, engagement sans aggregation, and a lack of deception in complete open transparency beyond identity. I’d propose replicating the study primarily with 1) different cultures and languages, 2) high level meditators, 3) prisoners, 4) executives, and 5) therapists. Regarding the field, I’d be interested in experiment 5. 

As a final note, I’d recommend executing studies on self-referencing and non-defensiveness, and add in fMRI measures of altruism with different cultures. I think there’s a possible flaw in the theory, because I don’t think “self” is needed for autonomy, and when looking at Carl Rogers work with a client. I think “self” is possibly a linguistic artifact. Regarding methodologies, for once, I’d actually be interested in replicating the same methodology, changing the sample context.


This work is hugely valuable, it’s really getting at something, and is well appreciated. That said, I think that science would do a huge favor by considering different cultural contexts because as I learned with the polygraph paper, just because something is experimented on, doesn’t mean the public (autonomous) is going to understand the limitations and constraints (control) of the experimental design. The public may just run with the conclusion, write a small article in New Scientist or Psychology Today and lead the public to believe something is true for all cases, because well, the paper said so (for all cases of the sample in the study).


Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11, 227-268.

Filkowski, M. M, Cochran, R. N., & Haas, B. W. (2016). Altruistic behavior: mapping responses in the brain. Neuroscience and Neuroeconomics, 5, 65–75. https://doi.org/10.2147/NAN.S87718

Gosling, S. D., Rentfrow, P. J., & Swann, W. B. (2003). A very brief measure of the big-five personality domains. Journal of Research in Personality, 37, 504-528.

Martijn, C., Tenbült, P., Merckelbach, H., Dreezens, E., & de Vries, N. K. (2002). Getting a grip on ourselves: Challenging expectancies about loss of energy after self-control. Social Cognition, 20, 441-460.

Pennebaker, J. W., Francis, M. E., & Booth, R. J. (2001). Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC2001). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Weinstein, Netta, & Hodgins, Holley S. (2009). The Moderating Role of Autonomy and Control on the Benefits of Written Emotion Expression. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 35(3), 351–364. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167208328165