Researcher ORCID Identifier

Graduation Year


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Second Department

W.M. Keck Science Department

Reader 1

Brian Duistermars

Reader 2

Glenn Simshaw

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Rights Information

2022 Isabelle G Antolin


James Baldwin wrote, “When you’re writing, you’re trying to find out something which you don’t know” (as cited in Plimpton 1989). Writers, like James Baldwin, have for a long time acknowledged that writing has some psychological effect. However, the neural basis of this effect has yet to be understood. Neuroimaging studies have examined writing as a creative process, identifying a predominantly left fronto-parieto-temporal network activation during writing tasks (including brainstorming, drafting, and revising). Importantly, one study examining poetry composition found that a generative phase of writing was associated with a significant anti-correlative activation pattern between the dorsal attention network (DAN) and the default mode network (DMN). Additionally, during revision this anti-correlation was attenuated, indicating that different writing tasks require a modulation of the top-down attentional control provided by the DAN. To unify these neuroimaging findings, I suggest that writing in a naturalistic environment requires the continual balance in activation of these two networks to find the optimal brain state for the given writing task. To my knowledge, these neuroimaging findings of writing as a creative process have yet to be extended to writing as a psychological intervention. Thus, I analyze my proposed model for writing in the context of Pennebaker’s (1997) psychological intervention, expressive writing, and its proposed mechanisms of action. I argue that the positive psychological effects associated with expressive writing are facilitated by the continual modulation between the DAN and DMN to find the optimal balance required of writing.