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J Pers Soc Psychol. 1997 Apr;72(4):863-71.

Linguistic predictors of adaptive bereavement.

Author information

  • 1Department of Psychology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas 75275, USA. pennebak@mail.smu.edu


The words people use in disclosing a trauma were hypothesized to predict improvements in mental and physical health in 2 studies. The first study reanalyzed data from 6 previous experiments in which language variables served as predictors of health. Results from 177 participants in previous writing studies showed that increased use of words associated with insightful and causal thinking was linked to improved physical but not mental health. Higher use of positive relative to negative emotion words was also associated with better health. An empirical measure that was derived from these data correlated with subsequent distress ratings. The second study tested these models on interview transcripts of 30 men who had lost their partners to AIDS. Cognitive change and empirical models predicted postbereavement distress at 1 year. Implications of using computer-based text analyses in the study of narratives are discussed.

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