Linguistic markers of emotion in mothers of sickle cell carrier infants: What are they and what do they mean?

Nadia Y. Ahmad, Michael H. Farrell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Objective: The objectives were to examine emotion-related language in mothers' narratives about newborn screening, and test the correlations between language and self-reported emotion and behavior. Methods: Transcripts of interviews with mothers of infant sickle cell carriers were analyzed with word count software for the prevalence of emotion-related words in narratives about newborn screening. Word counts were compared to population norms for spoken language using one-sample t-tests. Anxiety-related words were correlated with self-reported anxiety and avoidance of genetic testing. Results: 187 transcripts were analyzed, in which there was a higher percentage of anxiety words (m= 38%) than population norms (m= 18%), t(186)=10.59, p < .001, CI= 16-23. Anxiety-related word use was positively correlated with self-reported previous anxiety, rs(185)= 24, p= 001. Self-reported previous anxiety, but not word use, was correlated with mothers' avoidance of undergoing genetic testing themselves rs(152)= 25, p= 002. Conclusion: Mothers of sickle cell carrier infants reported anxiety upon learning their child's condition. Anxiety-related words in maternal narratives were correlated with their reports of past, but not present, emotions. Practice implications: Researchers and clinicians should use caution in assuming that word choices reflect state emotions. Self-report methods may be preferable for predicting behavioral outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)128-133
Number of pages6
JournalPatient Education and Counseling
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2014
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the National Institute for Heart, Lung, and Blood [grant numbers R01-HL086691 , R01-HL086691-02S1 ].


  • Emotion measurement
  • LIWC
  • Linguistic analysis
  • Newborn screening
  • Parental anxiety
  • Sickle cell carriers


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