Writing has been shown to replace ruminating. Ruminating is generally thought of as mental activity devoted to replaying past traumatic experience. It is a well-known contributor to clinical depression. That’s why writing workshops are often included in the treatment of depression. However, ruminating over future events, such as taking a high-stakes exam or something, can be equally disruptive. In this case, ruminating often leads to “choking” where students perform more poorly than expected given their skill level, especially when there are large incentives for optimal performance and negative consequences for poor performance. University of Chicago Psychologist Sian Beilock has found that the simple act of writing about anxiety can significantly reduce students’ chances of choking, especially if it’s done just prior to test-taking [link]. She says that when students are able to express their fears in writing, they’re given the satisfaction that they’ve dealt with them enough to move on and stop ruminating over them. This, in turn, releases space in working memory ..making it available to work on the task at hand.

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Tags: anxiety, cognition

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