Faculty Articles

Social anxiety and word use: How environments can influence words

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Journal of Young Investigators



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Language provides insight into individuals' perceptions, needs, and desires; in addition, stress has been shown to influence how others perceive an individual. In the current study, we investigated the impact of stress on language. The ninety-four participants enrolled were asked to complete a speech about the body part of theirs that they liked the least. Speeches were transcribed and entered into linguistic software where a percentage of specific word use of the whole speech sample was analyzed. The specific word use analyzed in the speeches included items such as articles, prepositions, and first person singulars. In addition, groups of dictionary words that are blanketed by a certain domain, such as self-words, social words, and references to others, were also analyzed. Initial results corroborated past research, in which males used more prepositions and articles than females, and females used more first person singulars and words related to the self than males. Secondly, results demonstrated that increased anxiety levels in males correlated with increases of words reflecting social processes and references to others. This association was not observed in females. Current gender theories of coping with stress suggest that females will seek affiliation in times of stress (tend and befriend response), while males react with aggression and social withdrawal during stressful situations (fight or flight response). The present study demonstrated that word use and stress coping mechanisms were not synonymous. Implications from this study show that various mental processes may affect word use; in addition, overt observation of word use may not be directly linked to one's gender dependent stress coping mechanism.

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