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Depression, negative emotionality, and self-referential language

LIWC Research Series:


Studies have typically shown that those experiencing higher levels of depression tend to use more first-person singular pronouns (I, me, my) in their everyday written and spoken language; however, these results have been mixed. In this article, researchers combined data from several studies collected by several different labs and examined the depression and self-focused pronoun correlation to resolve inconsistencies of past results. Although researchers found a significant positive association between depression and self-focused pronouns, this association was significantly weakened when controlling for negative emotionality. In contrast, the positive association between negative emotionality and self-focused pronouns remained strong even after controlling for depression. These findings suggest that first-person singular pronoun use may be more indicative of general psychological distress than depression.



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Citation:

Tackman, A.M., Sbarra, D.A., Carey, A.L., Donnellan, M.B., Horn, A.B., Holtzman, N.S., Edwards, T.S., Pennebaker, J.W., & Mehl, M.R. (2019). Depression, negative emotionality, and self-referential language: A multi-lab, multi-measure, and multi-language-task research synthesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,116(5), 817-834.

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