Feelings in Words: Emotion Word Use and Cardiovascular Reactivity in Marital Interactions

Tabea Meier, Jacquelyn E. Stephens, Claudia M. Haase*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Putting feelings into words is often thought to be beneficial. Few studies, however, have examined associations between natural emotion word use and cardiovascular reactivity. This laboratory-based study examined emotion word use (i.e., from computerized text analysis) and cardiovascular reactivity (i.e., interbeat interval changes from baseline) across two interaction contexts (i.e., conflict and positive conversations) in 49 mixed-sex married couples (age: M = 43.11, SD = 9.20) from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. We focused on both frequency (i.e., relative proportion of emotion words) and diversity (i.e., relative proportion of unique emotion words) of emotion words. Data were collected between 2015 and 2017 and analyzed treating both partners and conversations as repeated measures, resulting in 196 observations overall (four per dyad). Findings showed that (a) when spouses used more negative emotion words (especially anger), they showed higher cardiovascular reactivity. This finding was robust when controlling for covariates; generalized across gender, interaction contexts, and socioeconomic status. Moreover, (b) when spouses used a more diverse negative emotion vocabulary, they showed higher cardiovascular reactivity, but this was not robust when controlling for negative emotion word frequency. Associations between (c) positive emotion word use and cardiovascular reactivity were not statistically significant. Verbalizing negative emotions thus seems to go along with higher cardiovascular reactivity, at least in the short term. Replication is needed across other relationship types, genders, and sexual orientations. These findings highlight emotion word use as an indicator of cardiovascular reactivity, which has implications for the identification of potential health risks that emerge during marital interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)733-744
Number of pages12
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 28 2023


  • cardiovascular reactivity
  • couples
  • dyadic interactions
  • emotion word use
  • health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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