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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 (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.

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. (PsycINFO Database Record

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. (PsycINFO Database Record

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Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Psychology
08 Research Priority Programs > Dynamics of Healthy Aging
Dewey Decimal Classification:150 Psychology
Language:English
Date:1 May 2019
Deposited On:17 Dec 2018 15:50
Last Modified:12 Apr 2019 01:02
Publisher:American Psychological Association
ISSN:0022-3514
OA Status:Closed
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1037/pspp0000187
PubMed ID:29504797

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