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Reading Between the Lines: The Lay Assessment of Subclinical Depression From Written Self-Descriptions


  • The data for this study were collected as part of an honors project that the first author completed at the University of Arizona.

concerning this article should be addressed to Aubrey J. Rodriguez, University of Southern California, Department of Psychology, 3620 McClintock Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90089-1061. E-mail:


ABSTRACT This study investigated how laypersons assess subclinical depression in others from 2 forms of written self-descriptions: personal diaries and online blogs. Fifty-seven target participants wrote essays describing their personality as they would in each context. Naïve judges then rated targets' depression from the 2 sets of self-descriptions. The judges achieved high and comparable levels of accuracy in the 2 self-descriptions by basing their impressions on linguistic cues indicative of depression-related emotional, cognitive, temporal, and social processes. Consistent with the idea that diaries particularly afford the disclosure of socially sensitive concerns whereas online blogs particularly afford the disclosure of socially acceptable concerns, several cues were indicative of depression only in the targets' diaries (sadness words, cognitive mechanism words, metaphysical references) or their online blogs (e.g., swear words, references to sleep). For most of these cues, judges were implicitly aware of their context-specific diagnosticity.