Analyzing text message linguistic features: Do people with depression communicate differently with their close and non-close contacts?

Jonah Meyerhoff*, Tingting Liu, Caitlin A. Stamatis, Tony Liu, Harry Wang, Yixuan Meng, Brenda Curtis, Chris J. Karr, Garrick Sherman, Lyle H. Ungar, David C. Mohr

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background: Relatively little is known about how communication changes as a function of depression severity and interpersonal closeness. We examined the linguistic features of outgoing text messages among individuals with depression and their close- and non-close contacts. Methods: 419 participants were included in this 16-week-long observational study. Participants regularly completed the PHQ-8 and rated subjective closeness to their contacts. Text messages were processed to count frequencies of word usage in the LIWC 2015 libraries. A linear mixed modeling approach was used to estimate linguistic feature scores of outgoing text messages. Results: Regardless of closeness, people with higher PHQ-8 scores tended to use more differentiation words. When texting with close contacts, individuals with higher PHQ-8 scores used more first-person singular, filler, sexual, anger, and negative emotion words. When texting with non-close contacts these participants used more conjunctions, tentative, and sadness-related words and fewer first-person plural words. Conclusion: Word classes used in text messages, when combined with symptom severity and subjective social closeness data, may be indicative of underlying interpersonal processes. These data may hold promise as potential treatment targets to address interpersonal drivers of depression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104342
JournalBehaviour Research and Therapy
StatePublished - Jul 2023


  • Affective disorders
  • Digital phenotyping
  • Language
  • Mood
  • Personal sensing
  • Smartphone
  • Social ties

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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