The Language of Defense: Linguistic Patterns in Narratives of Transgressions

Faculty/Professorship: Personality Psychology and Psychological Assessment  
Author(s): Schütz, Astrid  ; Baumeister, Roy F.
Title of the Journal: Journal of Language and Social Psychology
ISSN: 0261-927X
Publisher Information: Thousand Oaks, Calif. [u.a.] : Sage Publications
Year of publication: 1999
Volume: 18
Issue: 3
Pages: 269-286
Language(s): English
DOI: 10.1177/0261927X99018003003
To investigate how defensive motivations would affect patterns of language use, the authors compared narratives of personal transgressions (about hurting someone) against a set of narratives about making someone happy. Compared to the happy stories, transgression narratives were more likely to describe actions occurring without deliberate guidance or intention. Length in word count did not vary, but transgression narratives had shorter sentences, especially in the sections describing the transgression and its consequences. They had longer introductions, presumably to explain background and mitigating circumstances. Transgression narratives featured the emotions and thoughts of the narrator significantly more than did narratives of making someone happy (which focused heavily on the target’s feelings), and they used more adverbs and similar words to emphasize the narrator’s emotions. Transgression narratives had fewer specific details but more (ostensibly) exact quotations.
International Distribution: Ja
Type: Article
Year of publication: 24. June 2019