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First-person pronoun use in spoken language as a predictor of future depressive symptoms: preliminary evidence from a clinical sample of depressed patients


Zimmermann, Johannes; Brockmeyer, Timo; Hunn, Matthias; Schauenburg, Henning; Wolf, Markus (2017). First-person pronoun use in spoken language as a predictor of future depressive symptoms: preliminary evidence from a clinical sample of depressed patients. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 24(2):384-391.

Abstract

Several theories suggest that self-focused attention plays an important role in the maintenance of depression. However, previous studies have predominantly relied on self-report and laboratory-based measures such as sentence completion tasks to assess individual differences in self-focus. We present a prospective, longitudinal study based on a sample of 29 inpatients with clinical depression, investigating whether an implicit, behavioural measure of self-focused attention, i.e., the relative frequency of first-person singular pronouns in naturally spoken language, predicts depressive symptoms at follow-up over and above initial depression. We did not find a significant cross-sectional association between depressive symptoms and first-person singular pronoun use. However, first-person singular pronoun use significantly predicted depressive symptoms approximately 8 months later, even after controlling for depressive symptoms at baseline or discharge. Exploratory analyses revealed that this effect was mainly driven by the use of objective and possessive self-references such as 'me' or 'my'. Our findings are in line with theories that highlight individual differences in self-focused attention as a predictor of the course of depression. Moreover, our findings extend previous work in this field by adopting an unobtrusive approach of non-reactive assessment, capturing naturally occurring differences in self-focused attention. We discuss possible clinical applications of language-based assessments and interventions with regard to self-focus.
KEY PRACTITIONER MESSAGE: Naturally occurring individual differences in first-person singular pronoun use provide an unobtrusive way to assess patients' automatic self-focused attention. Frequent use of first-person singular pronouns predicts an unfavourable course of depression. Self-focused language might offer innovative ways of tracking and targeting therapeutic change

Abstract

Several theories suggest that self-focused attention plays an important role in the maintenance of depression. However, previous studies have predominantly relied on self-report and laboratory-based measures such as sentence completion tasks to assess individual differences in self-focus. We present a prospective, longitudinal study based on a sample of 29 inpatients with clinical depression, investigating whether an implicit, behavioural measure of self-focused attention, i.e., the relative frequency of first-person singular pronouns in naturally spoken language, predicts depressive symptoms at follow-up over and above initial depression. We did not find a significant cross-sectional association between depressive symptoms and first-person singular pronoun use. However, first-person singular pronoun use significantly predicted depressive symptoms approximately 8 months later, even after controlling for depressive symptoms at baseline or discharge. Exploratory analyses revealed that this effect was mainly driven by the use of objective and possessive self-references such as 'me' or 'my'. Our findings are in line with theories that highlight individual differences in self-focused attention as a predictor of the course of depression. Moreover, our findings extend previous work in this field by adopting an unobtrusive approach of non-reactive assessment, capturing naturally occurring differences in self-focused attention. We discuss possible clinical applications of language-based assessments and interventions with regard to self-focus.
KEY PRACTITIONER MESSAGE: Naturally occurring individual differences in first-person singular pronoun use provide an unobtrusive way to assess patients' automatic self-focused attention. Frequent use of first-person singular pronouns predicts an unfavourable course of depression. Self-focused language might offer innovative ways of tracking and targeting therapeutic change

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Psychology
Dewey Decimal Classification:150 Psychology
Language:English
Date:2017
Deposited On:27 Dec 2016 07:58
Last Modified:12 Apr 2017 12:50
Publisher:Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, Inc.
ISSN:1063-3995
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1002/cpp.2006
PubMed ID:26818665

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