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Natural Emotion Vocabularies As Windows on Distress and Well-Being

LIWC Research Series:


To date we know little about natural emotion word repertoires, and whether or how they are associated with emotional functioning. Principles from linguistics suggest that the richness or diversity of individuals’ actively used emotion vocabularies may correspond with their typical emotion experiences. The current investigation measures active emotion vocabularies in participant-generated natural speech and examined their relationships to individual differences in mood, personality, and physical and emotional well-being. Study 1 analyzes stream-of-consciousness essays by 1,567 college students. Study 2 analyzes public blogs written by over 35,000 individuals. The studies yield consistent findings that emotion vocabulary richness corresponds broadly with experience. Larger negative emotion vocabularies correlate with more psychological distress and poorer physical health. Larger positive emotion vocabularies correlate with higher well-being and better physical health. Findings support theories linking language use and development with lived experience and may have future clinical implications pending further research.

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Citation:

Vine, V., Boyd, R.L. & Pennebaker, J.W. Natural emotion vocabularies as windows on distress and well-being. Nat Commun11, 4525 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-18349-0