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In the Age of Email, the Good, Old Letter Still Holds Sway
Date:12/28/2011

By Dennis Thompson
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 28 (HealthDay News) -- Instant communication may be all the rage, but old-fashioned letter-writing may have a more beneficial lasting effect on recipients.

In a study involving soldiers serving in war zones, most in Iraq, researchers found that letters from home -- just a few words from the heart, scribbled onto paper or typed into an e-mail -- served as an inoculation against one of war's most insidious and long-lasting wounds. Recipients were less likely to exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Those positive, permanent forms of communication may have mental health benefits," said Benjamin Loew, a graduate research assistant in the psychology department at the University of Denver who co-authored the study, published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress.

More "instant" forms of communication, such as telephone calls or video chats, did not have the same positive effect on soldiers' mental well-being as the receipt of written communication or even care packages, the study found.

One theory why this is the case, according to the researchers, is that people tend to think through what they write in a letter and are less likely to be argumentative and more free to share affection and other positive feelings.

"These delayed forms of communication are going to be protected from conflict-type discussion," Loew said.

Letters also serve as mementos that soldiers can carry with them as a reminder of home.

"A soldier could repeatedly pull out a letter or an e-mail and feel support," Loew said. "A phone call can be recalled but can't be re-experienced. A letter can be read over and over again."

That makes perfect sense to Marion Frank, a Philadelphia psychologist and past president of the Philadelphia chapter of the Gold Star Wives of America, an organization for military widows and widowers.

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