Consistency of trauma narratives and descriptions of self among incarcerated women

Loretta L. C Brady, Fordham University


Schemas are cognitive structures that develop through experience and process information throughout the lifespan. Refined definitions for schema exist but few studies have produced measurement methods useful in naturalistic settings. Language analysis is an easily accessible indication of schema processing. Tools to assess linguistic properties or emotional patterns have not been employed to determine schema patterns. This study proposed that linguistic and emotion properties were indicative of schema processing and would be correlated in trauma and self narratives. An archived data set of 21 life history interviews originally collected in the mid-1980's from 13 European American and 8 African American women prisoners was used to examine the question. Statements relating to childhood trauma and adult self descriptions were isolated within the original narratives and used as the basic unit of analysis. Theme analysis for emotions was utilized and 11 emotions were targeted based on findings and definitions first outlined by Lisak (1997). Language properties were isolated and tracked using a computer software program developed by Pennebaker, Booth, and King (1999) as a measure of individual differences in language expression. Values for each of four linguistic properties (Positive Emotion, Negative Emotion, Causation, Insight) and for each of 11 emotional themes (Anger, Fear, Betrayal, Loss, Legitimacy, Helplessness, Isolation, Guilt, Shame, Negative Self, Negative Other) were calculated for each interviewee and organized by statement type. Correlations of these values were then calculated between trauma and self statements to test whether similar patterns of response would be detected across statement type. While fewer predicted correlations were detected than anticipated, the general trend that emotion themes and language properties would be related was supported in this investigation. Specifically support was found for the language variable Insight and for the emotion variable Legitimacy across statement types. Comparisons of the individual profile of emotion themes within self and trauma statements revealed that for some participants a consistent pattern of emotion was detected. Further analyses comparing these profiles to the behavioral content of life narratives suggests that tracking emotional and behavioral patterns across the life narrative may be useful in expanding schema detection with naturalistic data.

Subject Area

Psychotherapy|Personality|Womens studies|Criminology

Recommended Citation

Brady, Loretta L. C, "Consistency of trauma narratives and descriptions of self among incarcerated women" (2006). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3201124.