How Self-Reflection Influences Use of Cognitive and Analytical Language

*Corresponding author: Sheila Brownlow*, Emily L. Fogleman and Sophie Hirsch

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brief research report


We examined cognitive processes and analytic expression according to emotional prime, hypothesizing that negative affect may increase rumination as seen in analytic language (that is, lead to language of “explaining”), as well as insight and causality, reflecting language focused on specific reasons.
Sixty-four participants were assigned randomly to write about either “positive aspects of myself ” or “aspects of myself that I would like to change”. These narratives about positive and negative characteristics were subjected to the linguistic inquiry and word count (LIWC) in order to examine how the manipulations influenced expression.
More insight and causation in language was seen in participants’ language that focused on positive (rather than negative) aspects of themselves, but more discrepancy was seen when writing about negative qualities. These findings were not a function of wordiness.
Causality and insight were prevalent in language after positive prompting, perhaps because people were providing rationale and support for positive self-talk. Discrepancy suggests counterfactual thought and was common in writing from a negative prompt.
Language use; Analytical language; Sex differences in linguistics.