The Linguistic Effects of Context Specificity: Exploring Affect, Cognitive Processing, and Agency in Physicians' Think-Aloud Reflections

Abigail Konopasky*, Steven J. Durning, Anthony R. Artino, Divya Ramani, Alexis Battista

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


The literature suggests that affect, higher-level cognitive processes (e.g. decision-making), and agency (the capacity to produce an effect) are important for reasoning; however, we do not know how these factors respond to context. Using situated cognition theory as a framework, and linguistic tools as a method, we explored the effects of context specificity [a physician seeing two patients with identical presentations (symptoms and findings), but coming to two different diagnoses], hypothesizing more linguistic markers of cognitive load in the presence of contextual factors (e.g. incorrect diagnostic suggestion). In this comparative and exploratory study, 64 physicians each completed one case with contextual factors and one without. Transcribed think-aloud reflections were coded by Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) software for markers of affect, cognitive processes, and first-person pronouns. A repeated-measures multivariate analysis of variance was used to inferentially compare these LIWC categories between cases with and without contextual factors. This was followed by exploratory descriptive analysis of subcategories. As hypothesized, participants used more affective and cognitive process markers in cases with contextual factors and more I/me pronouns in cases without. These differences were statistically significant for cognitive processing words but not affective and pronominal words. Exploratory analysis revealed more negative emotions, cognitive processes of insight, and third-person pronouns in cases with contextual factors. This study exposes linguistic differences arising from context specificity. These results demonstrate the value of a situated cognition view of patient encounters and reveal the utility of linguistic tools for examining clinical reasoning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)273-280
Number of pages8
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • agency
  • clinical reasoning
  • context specificity
  • emotion
  • linguistics


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