Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Philosophy (Ph.D)



First Advisor

Rafael A Javier

Second Advisor

Wilson McDermut

Third Advisor

Robin Wellington


This dissertation is a quantitative and qualitative exploration of how one linguistically communicates emotions through an autobiographical narrative. Psycholinguistic research has affirmed that linguistic features of a narrative, including semantic and acoustic features, indicate a narrator’s emotions and physiological. This study investigated whether these linguistic features could help differentiate between trauma and neutral narratives and if they can predict autobiographical narratives’ subjective trauma ratings (STR). Qualitative analyses of the positive and negative evaluative statements were also conducted, which indicated the narrators’ thought processes during recall. Twenty-two Spanish-English college students participated in this study and narrated both traumatic and neutral narratives. We measured the narratives’ proportions of anger, fear, sadness, and joy emotion-related words and referential language. For acoustic analyses, we extracted narratives’ prosodic features, including, pitch, jitter, speaking speed, and acoustic energy, and cepstral features (I.e., MFCCs). Positive and negative evaluative statements were reliably coded and extracted from the narratives. Student’s T-tests showed that neutral and trauma narratives differed significantly in emotion-related semantic and MFCC-3. We tested the linguistic features' ability to predict participants’ STR for both narrative types through separate Leave One Out Cross-Validation linear regressions, which can be used efficaciously on small sample-sizes. Several semantic and acoustic features predicted the neutral narratives’ STRs. In contrast, we could not produce a statistically viable model for predicting the trauma narratives’ STR. Analyses of the evaluative statements suggest that the trauma narratives had a unique signature of negative and positive statements – in addition to trauma statements having more negative evaluations. Limitations of this dissertation suggest that future research should use a more regimented methodology if aiming to analyze acoustic features. Nevertheless, these results, although tentative due to the small sample size, reinforce the importance of psycholinguistic analyses of narratives and have implications on how to assess people's emotional states during psychotherapy. The dissertation finally encourages the broader use of narratives and linguistic analyses in clinical psychology to preserve, recognize, and ameliorate traumatic experiences.