Senior Doctoral Fellow Speaker Series – Buddhism, Psychology and Mental Health

March 3, 2015

It has been a true pleasure being the Senior Doctoral Fellow for the Buddhism, Psychology and Mental Health program at New College this year and I very much look forward to giving this talk! 

“Mindful Medicine: Resiliency and Combating Cognitive Test Anxiety Through Mindful Writing”, 

Wednesday, March 4,  2015

12:00pm- 2:00pm

Room 2007D, Wilson Hall, New College

A light lunch will be served.



“Not all must write in order to find meaning, but the mindfulness required by writing could well serve as a tool for therapy” (Kellogg, 1994, p. 215). There is increasing evidence supporting a link between writing about one’s emotional experiences and alleviating physical and psychological ailments (Pennebaker & Beall, 1986; Pennebaker & Seagal, 1995; Andersson & Conley, 2013). Recently, in the academic milieu, studies have focused on relieving test anxiety via writing about one’s emotional experiences prior to the test; however, focus has only been given to standardized exams (such as the GRE, MCAT or LSAT), or high school tests (Burns & Friedman, 2012; Dalton & Glenwick, 2009). As these studies suggest, writing mindfully about one’s experiences may attenuate feelings of worry and anxiety, decreasing cognitive test anxiety thereby leading to an increase in test scores (Ramirez & Beilock, 2011), which calls into question whether current evaluation practices are, in fact, at all valid if one’s anxiety is affecting one’s ability to demonstrate knowledge (Cassidy & Johnson, 2002).

The present research seeks to discover whether mindful, emotive writing indeed affects anxiety, and how these effects might differ depending on the written language. Differing from past studies, the present investigation explored undergraduate students in a large metropolitan university writing a final exam. Three hundred and sixty-two second year undergraduate students were randomized to a control or an experimental grouping, given the Cognitive Test Anxiety Scale, along with other measures, and asked either to express their emotions via writing in their native language or English, or to sit quietly (a control) before taking a final exam.  As previously demonstrated (Lepore, 1997; Ramirez & Beilock, 2011), it was expected that writing about anxiety, particularly in one’s native language would be largely effective in decreasing the anxiety felt by students by allowing them to express their feelings in a more emotive way via their native tongue. Statistical analysis reveals this hypothesis was not supported. Qualitative analysis of students analyzed by way of phenomenologically-informed inductive thematic analysis further explored the factors that students, particularly minority students and non-native English speakers, find particularly anxiety-producing.

Based on the present findings of both quantitative and qualitative analyses, recommendations for changes in teaching practices and evaluation methods, as well as factors contributing to resiliency will be discussed.