Linguistic indicators of patient, couple, and family adjustment following breast cancer

Megan L. Robbins, Matthias R. Mehl, Hillary L. Smith, Karen L. Weihs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


Background This study examined how language reflective of emotional and social processes during a cancer-related discussion relates to patient, couple, and family adjustment after breast cancer. It investigated whether emotional expression or relational focus, manifested in language use, indicates healthy family coping following breast cancer. Methods Family members each completed measures of adjustment (Family Environment Scale, Dyadic Adjustment Scale, and patient Profile of Mood States) and engaged in a 15-min family discussion about how they have coped with breast cancer. Transcripts from the discussion were submitted to a text-analysis software program to obtain frequency of positive and negative emotion words, and personal pronouns spoken by each family member. The relationship between self-reports of adjustment and frequency of language use during the family discussion was analyzed with regression models. Results Partners' positive emotion words were indicative of better family adjustment, patients' negative emotion words indicated greater family conflict, and sons' and daughters' anger words indicated poorer adjustment, whereas their anxiety words indicated better family adjustment. Partner we-talk was related to better dyadic adjustment, and couples' 'you' was somewhat related to worse adjustment at all levels. Conclusions Important information about how a family copes with breast cancer can be obtained by attending to families' emotional and relational language. This study suggests that clinicians and members of families' support networks can gauge how well a family has adapted after the breast cancer experience by attending to the type of words that each family member uses to describe how they coped with breast cancer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1501-1508
Number of pages8
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2013


  • breast cancer
  • coping
  • language use
  • oncology
  • word use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Oncology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


Dive into the research topics of 'Linguistic indicators of patient, couple, and family adjustment following breast cancer'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this