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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Power Of Words: How Are Depression Symptoms And Labile Self-Esteem Related To Word Use?


The way people talk about their emotional experiences can reveal information about how well they are functioning. Depression symptoms can include feelings of hopelessness and a saddened mood. Labile self-esteem is the fluctuations a person may experience in their self-esteem. Previous studies have found a relationship between self-esteem, depression symptoms, and word use; however, no research has yet examined the interaction between depression symptoms and labile self-esteem in predicting word use. The present study examines the main and interactive effects of depression symptoms and labile self-esteem in predicting the number of clout (language associated with confidence), achievement (goal-oriented language), and power (words related to superiority) words utilized to describe sad and happy emotional experiences. We predicted that the interaction between more depression symptoms and more labile self-esteem would relate to less use of clout, achievement, and power words when describing sad and happy emotional experiences. Participants answered surveys measuring depression symptoms and labile self-esteem. The Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) software was used to determine how much clout, achievement, and power words participants utilized when describing past sad and happy emotional experiences. The present study found that labile self-esteem was only significantly positively correlated with clout words used to describe a happy emotional experience. In contrast to our hypothesis, participants’ self-reported depression symptoms were not linked to clout, power, and achievement words used to describe happy and sad emotional experiences. Finally, there were no significant interactions between labile self-esteem and depression symptoms in predicting words used to express a past emotional experience. The findings in this study provide a greater understanding of how factors that may affect a person’s overall wellbeing, such as depression symptoms and labile self-esteem, are linked to how people recall and express past emotional experiences.

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