Depression, Negative Emotionality, and Self-Referential Language: A Multi-Lab, Multi-Measure, and Multi-Language-Task Research Synthesis

Allison M. Tackman, David A Sbarra, Angela L. Carey, M. Brent Donnellan, Andrea B. Horn, Nicholas S. Holtzman, To'Meisha S. Edwards, James W. Pennebaker, Matthias R Mehl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

9 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Depressive symptomatology is manifested in greater first-person singular pronoun use (i.e., I-talk), but when and for whom this effect is most apparent, and the extent to which it is specific to depression or part of a broader association between negative emotionality and I-talk, remains unclear. Using pooled data from N = 4,754 participants from 6 labs across 2 countries, we examined, in a preregistered analysis, how the depression-I-talk effect varied by (a) first-person singular pronoun type (i.e., subjective, objective, and possessive), (b) the communication context in which language was generated (i.e., personal, momentary thought, identity-related, and impersonal), and (c) gender. Overall, there was a small but reliable positive correlation between depression and I-talk (r = .10, 95% CI [.07, .13]). The effect was present for all first-person singular pronouns except the possessive type, in all communication contexts except the impersonal one, and for both females and males with little evidence of gender differences. Importantly, a similar pattern of results emerged for negative emotionality. Further, the depression-I-talk effect was substantially reduced when controlled for negative emotionality but this was not the case when the negative emotionality-I-talk effect was controlled for depression. These results suggest that the robust empirical link between depression and I-talk largely reflects a broader association between negative emotionality and I-talk. Self-referential language using first-person singular pronouns may therefore be better construed as a linguistic marker of general distress proneness or negative emotionality rather than as a specific marker of depression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - Mar 5 2018

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emotionality
Language
Depression
language
Research
human being
Communication
communication
Linguistics
gender-specific factors
linguistics
gender
evidence

Keywords

  • Depression
  • Language
  • LIWC
  • Negative emotionality
  • Personality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science

Cite this

Depression, Negative Emotionality, and Self-Referential Language : A Multi-Lab, Multi-Measure, and Multi-Language-Task Research Synthesis. / Tackman, Allison M.; Sbarra, David A; Carey, Angela L.; Donnellan, M. Brent; Horn, Andrea B.; Holtzman, Nicholas S.; Edwards, To'Meisha S.; Pennebaker, James W.; Mehl, Matthias R.

In: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 05.03.2018.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Tackman, Allison M. ; Sbarra, David A ; Carey, Angela L. ; Donnellan, M. Brent ; Horn, Andrea B. ; Holtzman, Nicholas S. ; Edwards, To'Meisha S. ; Pennebaker, James W. ; Mehl, Matthias R. / Depression, Negative Emotionality, and Self-Referential Language : A Multi-Lab, Multi-Measure, and Multi-Language-Task Research Synthesis. In: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2018.
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