Assessing rigid modes of thinking in self-declared abortion ideology: natural language processing insights from an online pilot qualitative study on abortion attitudes

Danny Valdez, Kristen N Jozkowski*, Katherine Haus, Marijn Ten Thij, Brandon L Crawford, María S Montenegro, Wen-Juo Lo, Ronna C Turner, Johan Bollen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


INTRODUCTION: Although much work has been done on US abortion ideology, less is known relative to the psychological processes that distinguish personal abortion beliefs or how those beliefs are communicated to others. As part of a forthcoming probability-based sampling designed study on US abortion climate, we piloted a study with a controlled sample to determine whether psychological indicators guiding abortion beliefs can be meaningfully extracted from qualitative interviews using natural language processing (NLP) substring matching. Of particular interest to this study is the presence of cognitive distortions-markers of rigid thinking-spoken during interviews and how cognitive distortion frequency may be tied to rigid, or firm, abortion beliefs.

METHODS: We ran qualitative interview transcripts against two lexicons. The first lexicon, the cognitive distortion schemata (CDS), was applied to identify cognitive distortion n-grams (a series of words) embedded within the qualitative interviews. The second lexicon, the Linguistic Inquiry Word Count (LIWC), was applied to extract other psychological indicators, including the degrees of (1) analytic thinking, (2) emotional reasoning, (3) authenticity, and (4) clout.

RESULTS: People with polarized abortion views (i.e., strongly supportive of or opposed to abortion) had the highest observed usage of CDS n-grams, scored highest on authenticity, and lowest on analytic thinking. By contrast, people with moderate or uncertain abortion views (i.e., people holding more complex or nuanced views of abortion) spoke with the least CDS n-grams and scored slightly higher on analytic thinking.

DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION: Our findings suggest people communicate about abortion differently depending on their personal abortion ideology. Those with strong abortion views may be more likely to communicate with authoritative words and patterns of words indicative of cognitive distortions-or limited complexity in belief systems. Those with moderate views are more likely to speak in conflicting terms and patterns of words that are flexible and open to change-or high complexity in belief systems. These findings suggest it is possible to extract psychological indicators with NLP from qualitative interviews about abortion. Findings from this study will help refine our protocol ahead of full-study launch.

Original languageEnglish
Article number127
Number of pages14
JournalPilot and Feasibility Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jun 2022


  • Abortion
  • Cognitive distortions
  • Natural language processing
  • Psychology
  • Qualitative

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