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Spence, D.P. (1980). Lawfulness in Lexical Choice: A Natural Experiment. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 28:115-132.

(1980). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 28:115-132

Lawfulness in Lexical Choice: A Natural Experiment

Donald P. Spence, Ph.D.


The choice of specific words during face-to-face conversations may be just as overdetermined as the choice of words during free association. To explore this hypothesis, we looked in detail at three words used by patients who were at risk for cervical cancer and who were interviewed during a hospital visit for cone biopsy. We hypothesized that an ongoing disease process would influence choice of language, even though the interviews were conducted before the patients were informed of the results of the biopsy. We also hypothesized that choice of words by the interviewer would be affected by the patient's language. More distant derivatives, if they can be identified, may also behave in an equally lawful manner, and further research is needed to find ways of uncovering and measuring these silent markers.

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