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Unraveling Depression: Clues from Language Use in College Essays


In their groundbreaking research, the researchers sought to uncover the cognitive operations associated with depression and depression-vulnerability by analyzing essays written by currently-depressed, formerly-depressed, and never-depressed college students. Utilizing a text analysis program, they meticulously examined the language used in these essays, specifically focusing on pre-designated categories of words.


The findings were in line with Beck's cognitive model and Pyczsinski and Greenberg's self-focus model of depression, as depressed participants used more negatively valenced words and employed the word "I" more frequently compared to never-depressed participants. Interestingly, formerly-depressed participants, who were presumed to be depression-vulnerable, did not differ from never-depressed participants in these language indices initially. However, a striking pattern emerged as the essays progressed, with formerly-depressed writers showing a significant increase in the use of the word "I" in the final portion of the essays, surpassing that of never-depressed writers. These findings provide valuable insights into the cognitive dynamics underlying depression and depression-vulnerability.


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