Houston Strong: Linguistic Markers of Resilience after Hurricane Harvey
Objective: Hurricane Harvey was one of the most destructive hurricanes in United States’ history and negatively impacted a majority of Houstonians. It is not uncommon for individuals who are exposed to a natural disaster, like a hurricane, to develop debilitating trauma symptoms However, for those individuals who do not manifest clinically significant trauma symptoms, it has been hypothesized that one important variable in post-disaster functioning is resilience. The broad aim of this study was to determine if the language individuals used to write about their experience of Hurricane Harvey would be associated with their resilience later on, with the ultimate goal of understanding if linguistic analysis adds valuable information to our assessment of the projected course of mental health after a natural disaster.
Method: Using a sample of Houstonian adults, the computer program Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) was used to analyze narratives about Harvey, collected online in response to a brief prompt shortly after the event. Specific linguistic markers were examined to determine associations with an individual’s resilience six months post-disaster.
Results: Results indicate that greater use of ‘discrepancy’ words (e.g., should, would) and fewer ‘see’ (e.g., saw, images), and ‘focus past’ words (e.g., ago, did) significantly predicted resilience six months later.
Conclusion: Findings suggest that linguistic analysis has the can contribute to the prediction of resilience after disasters and holds promise for large-scale assessment of psychological functioning after a hurricane.