Talking about traumatic events: A cross-cultural investigation


  • Simone Freitag
  • Anna Grimm
  • Silke Schmidt


Individuals are facing traumatic situations like natural crises (like floods, earthquakes) and man-made disasters (terroristic attacks) incrementally. Traumatic events are related to psychological consequences for survivors (depression, posttraumatic stress disorder). The experience of a traumatic event can be disclosed through narratives, which can be linguistically analyzed with the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC). In this study, cultural and temporal differences in narratives about different traumatic events in seven European countries are investigated. 132 survivors, who experienced a traumatic situation, reported their experiences in focus groups and interviews. The transcripts of narratives were analyzed with the LIWC2007 (Pennebaker, Chung, Ireland, Gonzales & Booth, 2007). Regarding the LIWC categories affective and cognitive processes, event characteristics as well as cultural and temporal differences were explored. Results show that traumatic situations are reported with a greater amount of negative emotion words. Cultural differences regarding the LIWC categories are found between the seven European countries. A temporal factor, considering days elapsed between an event and narrative, was investigated. Temporal differences in cognitive word use, but not for affective contents, were recognized. This study was able to show tendencies of cultural diversity in the expression of traumatic events in survivors of seven European countries as well as to explore a temporal factor, which is related to a retrospective way of narration.