Early Linguistic Markers of Trauma-Specific Processing Predict Post-trauma Adjustment

Birgit Kleim, Andrea B. Horn, Rainer Kraehenmann, Matthias R. Mehl, Anke Ehlers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Identifying early predictors for psychiatric disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is crucial for effective treatment and prevention efforts. Obtaining such predictors is challenging and methodologically limited, for example by individuals' distress, arousal, and reduced introspective ability. We investigated the predictive power of language-based, implicit markers of psychological processes (N = 163) derived from computerized text-analysis of trauma and control narratives provided within 18 days post-trauma. Trauma narratives with fewer cognitive processing words (indicating less cognitive elaboration), more death-related words (indicating perceived threat to life), and more first-person singular pronouns (indicating self-immersed processing) predicted greater PTSD symptoms at 6 months. These effects were specific to trauma narratives and held after controlling for early PTSD symptom severity and verbal intelligence. When self-report questionnaires of related processes were considered together with the trauma narrative linguistic predictors, use of more first-person singular pronouns remained a significant predictor alongside self-reported mental defeat. Language-based processing markers may complement questionnaire measures in early forecasting of post-trauma adjustment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number645
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
StatePublished - Dec 5 2018


  • LIWC
  • cognitive processing
  • early predictors
  • linguistic
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • text analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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