Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count

Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC; Pennebaker et al., 2001) was originally developed in the context of Pennebaker's work on emotional writing. It was designed to reveal aspects of writing about negative life experiences that predict subsequent health improvements (Pennebaker & Francis, 1996; Pennebaker, Mayne, & Francis, 1997). More recently LIWC has been used to analyze language use in a wide variety of text sources including literature, personal narratives, press conferences, and transcripts of everyday conversations (Pennebaker et al., 2003).

LIWC searches for over 2,300 words or word stems within any given text file. Independent judges previously categorized the search words into 82 language dimensions. These dimensions include standard linguistic categories (e.g., articles, prepositions, pronouns), psychological processes (e.g., positive and negative emotion words, words referring to cognitive or social processes), relativity-related words (e.g., time, motion, space), and traditional content dimensions (e.g., sex, death, job). Most LIWC dimensions are hierarchically organized; for example, the word cried falls into the four categories of sadness, negative emotion, overall affect, and past-tense verb. The program also offers the option to create user-defined categories.

Although some LIWC dimensions are based on specific psychological theories (e.g., inhibition words, discrepancy words), most categories extract information at a basic grammatical (e.g., pronouns, articles, prepositions) and psychological level (e.g., emotion words). LIWC is instrumental in its aim and thematic in its approach. It captures broad aspects of language use. Currently, LIWC has been found to be most effective in tracking stylistic aspects of language use. However, with its traditional content categories, it also allows for a basic analysis of text content (e.g., achievement, religion, sexuality). Recently, Spanish, German, and Italian versions of the LIWC dictionary have been developed and tested for equivalence to the original English version. LIWC has been applied to a wide spectrum of research questions in social, personality, and clinical psychology, including coping with trauma, depression, suicidality, gender differences, personality expression, and aging (Groom & Pennebaker, 2002; Pennebaker et al., 2003).

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