In our own separate words : interpersonal coordination and depression in college student text messages

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Mariani Weinstein (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Michaeline Jensen

Abstract: Objectives: This project investigates whether interpersonal coordination of language style in written text message communication relates to past year depressive symptoms and lifetime Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) in young adults. Those who are depressed display interpersonal ineffectiveness, and interpersonal coordination is a spontaneous interpersonal process related to interpersonal engagement and effectiveness. Consistent with application of Joiner’s Integrative Interpersonal Framework to interpersonal coordination, low interpersonal coordination may erode social resources that are protective against depression and in turn depression may self-propagate by decreasing interpersonal coordination. Therefore, I hypothesized that students with more experiences of depression would engage in less interpersonal coordination in their sent text messages. Because depression impacts the behaviors of others, I also expected that texting partners of those with more depression experience would also coordinate their language styles less than texting partners of those with less depression experience. Methods: College students at UNC Chapel Hill (N = 267) contributed all their text messages (569,172 text messages) over two weeks in 2014-2015 with all texting partners, alongside self-report surveys of mental health and other psychosocial factors. Associations between target and partner interpersonal coordination (measured as reciprocal language style matching on function words) and past year depressive symptoms and lifetime Major Depressive Disorder were tested in a series of structural equation models. Sensitivity analyses explored associations in romantic relationship dyads and in a subset of more standard English-speaking dyads. Results: In primary analyses, contrary to hypotheses, people who had more depression experience and their partners did not tend to coordinate their language style less. I observed the same lack of significant associations in a sensitivity analysis among only romantic relationship dyads. However, the pattern was different among dyads that conformed more closely to standard English (as opposed to heavily relying on text abbreviations and alternate spellings). In this subgroup, students with more past year depressive symptoms and lifetime MDD coordinated more (opposite the hypothesized direction of effect). Conclusions: Interpersonal coordination as indexed by reciprocal language style matching of function words is difficult to capture in text message conversations, and we did not see support for our hypothesis that people with more depression experiences (and their partners) would coordinate less. Rather, sensitivity analyses revealed that students with more depression experiences may engage in more interpersonal coordination in text messages. Future studies should examine whether people who are in a current MDD episode, in remission, or who have depressive symptoms coordinate more than non-depressed, never-depressed, and less depressed people. Future studies should also examine alternative ways to measure interpersonal coordination in digital communication.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2021
Depression, Digital, Interpersonal Coordination, Language Style Matching, LSM, Text Messages
Interpersonal communication
Text messages (Cell phone systems)
College students $x Mental health
Depression, Mental

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