Language for emotions in adolescents with externalizing and internalizing disorders

Richard O'Kearney*, Mark R. Dadds

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


This study compared the structure and quality of emotion language in adolescents with externalizing disorders (N = 21), internalizing disorders (N = 18), and without a behavioral or emotional disorder (N = 16). Emotion language was elicited in response to vignette material prototypical for anger/sadness and fear, to autobiographical experiences, and to an actual emotional challenge. The findings reveal different emphases in the emotion language of internalizing and externalizing youth rather than a relative weakness for externalizing adolescents. Overall, clinical adolescents used fewer emotion terms that were semantically specific for anger, sad, or fear than typical adolescents. The results also show that emotion language is affected differentially for externalizing and internalizing adolescents depending on the emotion domain. Internalizing youth's emotion language to anger/sad events used inner-directed terms, situational references, and reduced intensity while their representation of emotions in response to salient threatening material was dominated by terms with a cognitive focus. Externalizing adolescents' emotion language responses to anger/sad events were more outer directed and intense, and their emotion language in a salient threat situation more orientated to direct affective terms. The results suggest that examining emotion language for specific emotion domains in adolescents with specific disorders will better clarify the role of emotion language in the regulation of emotions than approaches that globalize emotion language competencies or deficits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)529-548
Number of pages20
JournalDevelopment and Psychopathology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2005
Externally publishedYes


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