Linguist Paul Baker: Sex Differences on a Forum about Anxiety

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The linguistics and applied linguistics / TESOL program in the Department of English at ASU presents a virtual talk by applied linguist Paul Baker, "Sex Differences on a Forum about Anxiety," which takes place on Sep. 30 at 9 a.m. AZ/MST. All are welcome.


About the presentation

Anxiety is a growing, worldwide phenomenon. The World Health Organization estimates that there are 264 million people living with anxiety and diagnoses of anxiety disorders are more common among women than men (4.6% compared to 2.6% at the global level) (World Health Organization 2017). This book examines 23 million words of text posted to the Anxiety Support forum of the social networking service HealthUnlocked between March 2012 and October 2020, comprising 294,082 separate posts.

The way that people conceptualise feelings or conditions is significant. Chan, Chan and Kwok (2015) found that catastrophising was a positive predictor of anxiety among adolescents while Chen, Chen and Yang (2019) have described a study where individuals who were instructed to anthropomorphise sadness or happiness reported less experience of that emotion afterwards.

A small number of posts were written by people who did not identify as male or female and these posts were read in order to identify patterns or discourses relating to gender and sex identities. Then, lexical differences between male and female posters were retrieved by comparing the two sets of posts against one another to identify keywords and key multi word terms, using the corpus analysis tool Sketch Engine. These were categorised by hand and concordances examined to identify 1) how posters characterised anxiety and their relationship to it 2) strategies for managing anxiety 3) reasons for anxiety 4) interactional style on the forum. Additionally, words which explicitly referenced identities (e.g. female, man etc) were also subjected to concordance analyses.

The analysis shows trends which indicate that the ways that individuals understand and write about anxiety are filtered through gendered discourses. The findings have implications for the ways that people with anxiety and health practioners attempt to understand and resolve anxiety.

  • Chan, S.M., Chan, S.K. & Kwok, W.W. (2015) Ruminative and Catastrophizing Cognitive Styles Mediate the Association Between Daily Hassles and High Anxiety in Hong Kong Adolescents. Child Psychiatry Hum Dev 46, 57–66. 
  • Chen, F., Chen, R. P. and Yang, L. (2019) When Sadness Comes Alive, Will It Be Less Painful? The Effects of Anthropomorphic Thinking on Sadness Regulation and Consumption. Journal of Consumer Psychology 30(2): 277-95.
  • World Health Organisation (2017) Number of people with depression increases.
About the speaker

Paul Baker is Professor of English Language at the Department of Linguistics and English Language, Lancaster University where he is deputy director of the Corpus Approaches to Social Sciences ESRC Research Centre. He specialises in corpus linguistics, particularly using and developing corpus methods to carry out discourse analysis, as well as being involved in research in media language, variation and change and social identities. He has written 22 books, including "Using Corpora to Analyse Discourse" (2006), "Sexed Texts: Language, Gender and Sexuality" (2008) and "Discourse Analysis and Media Attitudes" (2013). He is also commissioning editor of the journal Corpora (EUP), and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences.

LaMonte Key
Friday, Sep. 30, 2022, 9 a.m.
Free of charge and open to the public; registration required

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