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Language use is of increasing interest in the study of mental illness. Analytical approaches range from phenomenological and qualitative to formal computational quantitative methods. Practically, the approach may have utility in predicting clinical outcomes. We harnessed a real-world sample (blog entries) from groups with psychosis, strong beliefs, odd beliefs, illness, mental illness and/or social isolation to validate and extend laboratory findings about lexical differences between psychosis and control subjects.
We describe the results of two experiments using Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count software to assess word category frequencies. In experiment 1, we compared word use in psychosis and control subjects in the laboratory (23 per group), and related results to subject symptoms. In experiment 2, we examined lexical patterns in blog entries written by people with psychosis and eight comparison groups. In addition to between-group comparisons, we used factor analysis followed by clustering to discern the contributions of strong belief, odd belief and illness identity to lexical patterns.
Consistent with others’ work, we found that first-person pronouns, biological process words and negative emotion words were more frequent in psychosis language. We tested lexical differences between bloggers with psychosis and multiple relevant comparison groups. Clustering analysis revealed that word use frequencies did not group individuals with strong or odd beliefs, but instead grouped individuals with any illness (mental or physical).
Pairing of laboratory and real-world samples reveals that lexical markers previously identified as specific language changes in depression and psychosis are probably markers of illness in general.
Language use is often disrupted in patients with schizophrenia; novel
computational approaches may provide new insights.
To test word use patterns as markers of the perceptual, cognitive and
social experiences characteristic of schizophrenia.
Word counting software was applied to first-person accounts of
schizophrenia and mood disorder.
More third-person plural pronouns (‘they’) and fewer first-person
singular pronouns (‘I’) were used in schizophrenia than mood disorder
accounts. Schizophrenia accounts included fewer words related to the body
and ingestion, and more related to religion. Perceptual and causal
language were negatively correlated in schizophrenia accounts but
positively correlated in mood disorder accounts.
Differences in pronouns suggest decreased self-focus or perhaps even an
understanding of self as other in schizophrenia. Differences in how
perceptual and causal words are correlated suggest that long-held
delusions represent a decreased coupling of explanations with sensory
experience over time.
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