Post-traumatic stress disorder-Diagnosis, Police psychology, Police-Sex differences, Psycholinguistics, Language and emotions, Language and languages-Word frequency, Linguistics-Computer porgrams, PTSD, LIWC, Linguistic inquiry, Word count, Trauma narrative, Police officers, Gender differences, Emotional expression
Police officers are routinely exposed to highly distressing events that elevate their risk for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and yet, research suggests that police culture socializes officers to deny or minimize vulnerable emotional reactions, such as fear or helplessness. Underreporting distress could obscure the accuracy of self-report measures of PTSD and pose major limitations for the diagnoses and treatments that rely on these measures. Therefore, identifying alternative methods to measure emotion and PTSD is of particular interest to researchers and clinicians who wish to accurately assess police and other socially important populations such as military and emergency services personnel. The present studies used Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC), a computer-assisted text analysis program, to determine whether objective assessment of language characteristics in officers' written trauma accounts could evaluate their emotional state and PTSD symptomology independent of reporting biases. We found that greater use of negative emotion words in a trauma narrative was the most consistent linguistic correlate of self-reported emotion and PTSD symptom severity. In a laboratory study of 45 retired male police officers from Michigan, this linguistic marker was associated with greater PTSD symptomatology, greater self-reports of current negative affect, and increased physiological reactivity while the officers discussed their worst duty-related trauma in the laboratory. A second internet survey study of a national convenience sample (49 males, 40 females) replicated the relationship between negative emotion words and PTSD symptom severity, and showed that the relationship held for both male and female officers. In both studies, social desirability reporting bias was not related to the use of negative emotion words, but was related to self-report measures of negative emotion and PTSD. Together, the studies suggest that LIWC's Negative Emotion scale is a valid measure of current negative emotion in police and may provide information about their PTSD symptom severity that is less susceptible to reporting bias than self-report measures. Future research should determine the generalizability of this linguistic measure in civilian populations.
Spencer, Robin Brown, "Negative emotion words in trauma narratives predict PTSD symptom severity in retired police officers" (2012). Honors Project, Smith College, Northampton, MA.
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