In an Absolute State: Elevated Use of Absolutist Words Is a Marker Specific to Anxiety, Depression, and Suicidal Ideation
Mohammed Al-Mosaiwi & Tom Johnstone
Absolutist thinking is considered a cognitive distortion by most cognitive therapies for anxiety and depression. Yet, there is little empirical evidence of its prevalence or specificity. Across three studies, we conducted a text analysis of 63 Internet forums (over 6,400 members) using the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count software to examine absolutism at the linguistic level. We predicted and found that anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation forums contained more absolutist words than control forums (ds > 3.14). Suicidal ideation forums also contained more absolutist words than anxiety and depression forums (ds > 1.71). We show that these differences are more reflective of absolutist thinking than psychological distress. It is interesting that absolutist words tracked the severity of affective disorder forums more faithfully than negative emotion words. Finally, we found elevated levels of absolutist words in depression recovery forums. This suggests that absolutist thinking may be a vulnerability factor.