Benefit Finding and Low Socioeconomic Status: Does it Buffer Against the Deleterious Effects of Chronic Stress?

Date

2018-12

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Abstract

Literature has documented benefit finding, the process of deriving benefits within adverse experiences, as a valuable psychological resource for those who have undergone traumatic experiences such as cancer, terrorism, war, or sexual assault. It is unclear whether benefit finding operates in a similar manner among those who undergo chronic stress such as those from low socioeconomic (SES) backgrounds. SES is one of the most robust predictors of health. Low SES predisposes individuals to chronic stress, which over time, compromises immune functioning whereby one’s bodily responses to stressors may become maladaptive and contribute to further illness, disease, and deterioration of psychological health. Benefit finding is a potential pathway in improving psychological well-being among those low in SES. The current study examined the efficacy of a benefit finding writing intervention among low SES undergraduate students on improving psychological health and perceived control. The study also explored the impact of writing on health behaviors. It was hypothesized that benefit finding writing would improve health outcomes, and the effects would be moderated by difficulties in emotional regulation, optimism, and personality traits. The mechanisms of the impact of benefit finding writing on outcomes were explored with benefit finding, positive affect, and cognitive reappraisal as potential mediators. 178 undergraduate students who self-indicated experiencing some type of financial strain in childhood participated in the study. Participants were randomly assigned to either the benefit finding group, to write for 20 minutes three times within a week, about the perceived benefits of being from a low social class background, or the control group, to write about a mundane topic. Both groups also completed a battery of questionnaires at baseline and follow-up at two weeks and four months post-writing. Results showed no group differences in psychological well-being at the two week follow-up. The benefit finding group had lower personal mastery compared to the control group only at the two week follow-up among those with higher levels of difficulties regulating emotions. At the four month follow-up, those in the benefit finding group had lower perceived stress than those in the control group. This study adds to the current literature on benefit finding by examining its potential benefits to low SES individuals through a writing intervention. A number of limitations of the study and future directions are discussed.

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Keywords

Benefit finding, Expressive writing, Socioeconomic status (SES), Socioeconomic status (SES), Health psychology, Positive psychology, Resilience, Interventions

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