People who are depressed use language that focuses more on themselves, research finds
Depressed people tend to use the words “I”, “myself” and “me” more than those who are not depressed.
This reflects the fact that depressed people often feel disconnected and alone.
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A second linguistic signal of depression is the use of more ‘absolutist’ words, such as “totally”, “completely” or “always”.
Depressed people tend to have a more black-and-white view of the world — there is little room for gray in their thinking.
Their use of absolutist words clearly shows this.
To reach this conclusion, researchers compared different online support groups.
Online groups such as Mumsnet were used as a control to compare with anxiety and depression groups.
The results showed that absolutist word use was 50% higher in anxiety and depression groups — and 80% higher in groups discussing suicide.
Unsurprisingly, studies also find that depressed and anxious people tend to use more words to express negative emotions, such as “sad” or “unhappy”.
The researchers also looked at a forum for people who had recovered from depression.
They talked in a much more positive way, an analysis of their language found.
Still, a linguistic sign of their depression remained.
Even in recovery, they were more likely to use absolutist language.
This suggests, the authors think, that black-and-white thinking remains as a kind of ‘scar’ after the episode of depression.
“…absolutist thinking has some trait-like qualities that persist outside of depressive episodes.
This is indeed what we observed.
Even though the recovery forums were largely very positive, the percentage of absolutist words in the recovery group… was significantly greater than the control forum group.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science (Al-Mosaiwi et al., 2018).