Psycholinguistic Indicators of Anxiety During White Self-reflection on Racial Privilege

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Kyra Boorsma Bergerud


Stress-based anxiety is connected to changes in prosodic elements of speech such as fundamental frequency, jitter, and shimmer. Emotional dysregulation and White racial anxiety surrounding racial confrontation (e.g. DiAngelo, 2011; Liebow & Glazer 2019; Matias et al. 2016) have been well observed. Despite this, deeper analysis on an interdisciplinary, biopsychosocial level remains limited. Moreover, the relationship between emotional dysregulation, race, and linguistics has not been sufficiently interrogated. This study aims to determine if there are observable psycholinguistic differences seen when White people engage in racial self-reflection as opposed to general self-reflection. This study includes 24 White, liberal participants randomly assigned to give a speech about race and privilege (treatment) or an unrelated control topic. Audio data were collected and analyzed for fundamental frequency, jitter, and shimmer and compared across treatment and control groups. These data provide a more detailed understanding of linguistic changes that arise in White people when discussing race by contextualizing their associated anxiety. Psycholinguistic indicators of anxiety (fundamental frequency, jitter, and shimmer) can provide important routes to study emotional regulation on a psychological and linguistic level. Additionally, these indicators can provide a mechanism to explain how emotional dysregulation manifests on a material level within a racial discussion. To facilitate more productive dialogue, White individuals must be aware of, and actively combative against their disengagement from productive discussion. Psycholinguistic analyses such as these may provide insight into White people’s strategies when avoiding racial discussion. It is critical to look deeper at microscopic aspects of discussion such as psycholinguistics to raise awareness about uninterrogated biases to intervene and change these engagements.

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Social Sciences, Education and Communication