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 Pennebaker, Matthias R. Mehl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

15 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)
Pages (from-to)817-834
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Volume116
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - May 1 2019

Fingerprint

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

Keywords

  • Depression
  • LIWC
  • Language
  • 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; Mehl, Matthias R.

In: Journal of personality and social psychology, Vol. 116, No. 5, 01.05.2019, p. 817-834.

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 ; 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. 2019 ; Vol. 116, No. 5. pp. 817-834.
@article{f51fd1029116467194a661b488520514,
title = "Depression, negative emotionality, and self-referential language: A multi-lab, multi-measure, and multi-language-task research synthesis",
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.",
keywords = "Depression, LIWC, Language, Negative emotionality, Personality",
author = "Tackman, {Allison M.} and Sbarra, {David A.} and Carey, {Angela L.} and Donnellan, {M. Brent} and Horn, {Andrea B.} and Holtzman, {Nicholas S.} and Edwards, {To'Meisha S.} and James Pennebaker and Mehl, {Matthias R.}",
year = "2019",
month = "5",
day = "1",
doi = "10.1037/pspp0000187",
language = "English (US)",
volume = "116",
pages = "817--834",
journal = "Journal of Personality and Social Psychology",
issn = "0022-3514",
publisher = "American Psychological Association Inc.",
number = "5",

}

TY - JOUR

T1 - Depression, negative emotionality, and self-referential language

T2 - A multi-lab, multi-measure, and multi-language-task research synthesis

AU - Tackman, Allison M.

AU - Sbarra, David A.

AU - Carey, Angela L.

AU - Donnellan, M. Brent

AU - Horn, Andrea B.

AU - Holtzman, Nicholas S.

AU - Edwards, To'Meisha S.

AU - Pennebaker, James

AU - Mehl, Matthias R.

PY - 2019/5/1

Y1 - 2019/5/1

N2 - 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.

AB - 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.

KW - Depression

KW - LIWC

KW - Language

KW - Negative emotionality

KW - Personality

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/record.url?scp=85042869093&partnerID=8YFLogxK

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/citedby.url?scp=85042869093&partnerID=8YFLogxK

U2 - 10.1037/pspp0000187

DO - 10.1037/pspp0000187

M3 - Article

C2 - 29504797

AN - SCOPUS:85042869093

VL - 116

SP - 817

EP - 834

JO - Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

JF - Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

SN - 0022-3514

IS - 5

ER -