After the end: Linguistic predictors of psychological distress 4 years after marital separation


Journal Article

© The Author(s) 2018. Divorce is a stressful life event that is associated with increased risk for poor mental and physical health. A key goal for research in this area is to understand individual differences in who fares well or poorly over time, and whether behavioral markers of risk immediately after a separation predict longer term adjustment. This article investigates psychological distress in a sample of separated adults (N = 134, 84 of whom completed all follow-up assessments) who participated in an initial study and a follow-up assessment approximately 4.5 years later. Using multiple regression we examined whether two linguistic behaviors—the use of words from categories such as first-person pronouns and present tense words (verbal immediacy) and first-person plural pronouns (we-talk; e.g., “we” or “our”)—predicted self-reported psychological distress at follow-up. Increased use of first-person plural pronouns predicted greater psychological distress 4.5 years after marital separation. Additional analyses revealed that this effect was driven largely by differences in self-concept disturbance over time. The extent to which people use first-person plural pronouns following marital separation predicts increased risk for psychological distress years later, and this behavioral indicator may identify people who are at greater risk for poor adjustment over time.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Bourassa, KJ; Hasselmo, K; Sbarra, DA

Published Date

  • June 1, 2019

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 36 / 6

Start / End Page

  • 1872 - 1891

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1460-3608

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0265-4075

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1177/0265407518774428

Citation Source

  • Scopus