Cognitive and Affective Dimensions of Mitigation in Advice

  • Carolina Figueras BatesEmail author
Original Paper


The present study examines the cognitive and affective dimensions of mitigation when providing peer advice in a mental health online support group. The corpus was comprised of 45 threads, with a total of 559 posts and 104,578 words, selected from an anorexia nervosa recovery forum. The analysis was conducted in a psychological paradigm that highlighted the role of cognition and emotion in the advice-giving act. The theoretical framework aligned Martinovski et al.’s (Proceedings of cognitive science, Stresa, 2005. model of mitigation with Sperber and Wilson’s (Relevance: communication and cognition. Blackwell, Oxford, 1986/1995) relevance theory. The findings suggest that the cognitive processes of mindreading, argumentation, and empathy were linguistically construed in the advice-giving messages as coping mechanisms to confront the stressor of managing a life-threatening disorder in interaction. In the context of the forum advisory exchange, these three operations were deployed as discursive mitigating strategies to protect life rather than to protect face when negotiating the meanings of the illness.


Mitigation Advice Online forum Eating disorders Mindreading Argumentation Empathy 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


  1. Albelda, M., Briz, A., Cestero, A., Kotwica, D., & Villalba, C. (2014). Ficha metodológica para el análisis pragmático de la atenuación en corpus discursivos del español. (ES.POR.ATENUACIÓN). Oralia, 17, 7–62.Google Scholar
  2. Ali, K., Farrer, L., Gulliver, A., & Griffiths, K. M. (2015). Online peer-to-peer support for young people with mental health problems: A systematic review. JMIR Mental Health, 2(2), e19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Andrea del Pozo, M., Harbeck, S., Zahn, S., Kliem, S., & Kröger, C. (2018). Cognitive distortions in anorexia nervosa and borderline personality disorder. Psychiatry Research, 260, 164–172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Antaki, C., & Wetherell, M. (1999). Show concessions. Discourse Studies, 1(1), 7–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Association of Internet Researchers (2012). Ethical decision-making and internet research. Retrieved from
  6. Astington, J. W., & Olson, D. R. (1990). Metacognitive and metalinguistic language: Learning to talk about talk. Applied Psychology, 39(1), 77–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Baron-Cohen, S. (1995). Mindblindness: An essay on autism and theory of mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Barth-Weingarten, D. (2003). Concession in Spoken English. On the realisation of a discourse-pragmatic relation. Tübingen: Narr.Google Scholar
  9. Bigi, S. (2018). The role of argumentative practices within advice-seeking activity types. The case of medical consultation. Revista Italiana di Filosofia del Linguaggio, 12(1), 42–52.Google Scholar
  10. Blakemore, D. (1987). Semantic constraints on relevance. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  11. Blakemore, D. (2002). Relevance and Linguistic meaning: The semantics and pragmatics of discourse markers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bo, F., Zhu, X., & Zhou, Y. (2018). Advice communication in cyberspace. In E. L. MacGeorge & L. M. Van Swol (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of advice (pp. 403–423). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Brothers, L. (1990). The social brain: A project for integrating primate behavior and neurophysiology in a new domain. Concepts in Neuroscience, 1, 27–51.Google Scholar
  14. Brown, P. B., & Levinson, S. C. (1987). Politeness: Some universals in language usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Caffi, C. (1999). On mitigation. Journal of Pragmatics, 31, 881–909.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Caffi, C., & Janney, R. W. (1994). Toward a pragmatics of emotive communication. Journal of Pragmatics, 22, 325–373.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Carruthers, P. (2006). The architecture of the mind: Massive modularity and the flexibility of thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Coricelli, G. (2005). Two-levels of mental states attribution: From automaticity to voluntariness. Neuropsychologia, 43, 294–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Couper-Kuhlen, E., & Thompson, A. A. (2000). Concessive patterns in conversation. In E. Couper-Kuhlen & B. Kortmann (Eds.), Cause, condition, concession, contrast. Cognitive and discourse perspectives (pp. 381–410). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Cuff, B., Brown, S., Taylor, L., & Howat, D. (2014). Empathy: A review of the concept. Emotion Review, 1–20.Google Scholar
  21. Czerwionka, L. (2010). Mitigation in Spanish discourse: Social and cognitive motivations, Linguistic analyses, and effects on interaction and interlocutors. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Austin: University of Texas. Retrieved from
  22. Czerwionka, L. (2012). Mitigation: The combined effects of imposition and certitude. Journal of Pragmatics, 44, 1163–1182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. DeCapua, A., & Huber, L. (1995). ‘‘If I were you…’’ Advice in American English. Multilingua, 14(2), 117–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. DeCapua, A., & Tian, L. (2015). Developing the communication skills of early childhood teacher candidates: The case of advice. Eurasian Journal of Applied Linguistics, 1(2), 57–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Dvash, J., & Shamay-Tsoory, S. G. (2014). Theory of mind and empathy as multidimensional constructs. Topics in Language Disorders, 34(4), 282–295.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Fairburn, C. G., Cooper, Z., & Shafran, R. (2003). Cognitive behavior therapy for eating disorders: A “transdiagnostic” theory and treatment. Behavior Research and Therapy, 41, 509–528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Feng, B., & Burleson, B. R. (2008). The effects of argument explicitness on responses to advice in supportive interactions. Communicative Research, 35, 849–874.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Feng, B., & MacGeorge, E. L. (2006). Predicting receptiveness to advice: Characteristics of the advice-giver, and the recipient. Southern Communication Journal, 71(1), 67–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Fitzsimmons, E. E., & Bardone-Cone, A. (2010). Differences in coping across stages of recovery from an eating disorder. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 43(8), 689–693.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Flores-Ferrán, N. (2010). An examination of mitigation strategies used in Spanish psychotherapeutic discourse. Journal of Pragmatics, 42, 1964–1981.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Flynn, M. A., & Stana, A. (2012). Social support in a men’s online eating disorder forum. International Journal of Men’s Health, 11, 2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Fox, M. F. (2001). Women, science, and academia: Graduate education and careers. Gender & Society, 15(5), 654–666.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Fraser, B. (1980). Conversational mitigation. Journal of Pragmatics, 4(4), 341–350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Goldman, A. I. (2010). Mirroring, mindreading, and simulation. In J. A. Pineda (Ed.), Mirror neuron systems. The role of mirroring processes in social cognition (pp. 311–330). Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  35. Goldman, A. I. (2012). Theory of mind. In E. Margolis, R. Samuels & S. P. Stich (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of philosophy and cognitive science (pp. 402–424). New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Goldsmith, D. J. (2004). Communicating social support. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Griffiths, M. (2005). Online therapy for addictive behaviors. Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 8(6), 555–561.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Guido, K. W. F., Roblek, T., Shott, M. E., et al. (2012). Heightened fear of uncertainty in anorexia and bulimia nervosa. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 45(2), 227–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Happé, F., Cook, J. L., & Bird, G. (2017). The structure of social cognition: In(ter)dependence of sociocognitive processes. Annual Review of Psychology, 68, 243–267.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Kouper (2010). The pragmatics of peer advice in a LiveJournal Community. Language@Internet, 7. Retrieved from
  41. Kozinet, R. V. (2015). Netnography: Redefined. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  42. Kupetz, M. (2014). Empathy displays as interactional achievements. Multimodal and sequencial aspects. Journal of Pragmatics, 61, 4–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Labov, W., & Waletzky, J. (1967). Narrative analysis. In J. Helm (Ed.), Essays on the verbal and visual arts (pp. 12–44). Seattle: U. of Washington Press.Google Scholar
  44. Lapointe, S. (2014). A corpus study of the verbal communication of empathy&sympathy by Anglophone Nurses in Quebec. Unpublished Master’s thesis. Université Laval, Québec, Canada. Retrieved from
  45. Lindström, J. K., & Londen, A. M. (2014). Insertion concessive: An interactional practice as a discourse grammatical construction. Constructions, 1(3), 1–11.Google Scholar
  46. Lindwall, O., & Lymer, G. (2011). Uses of “understand” in science education. Journal of Pragmatics, 43(2), 452–474.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Locher, M. A. (2006). Advice online. Advice-giving in an American Internet Health Column. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Locher, M. A. (2013). Internet advice. In D. S. Herring & T. Virtanen (Eds.), Pragmatics of computer-mediated communication (pp. 339–362). Berlin: de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  49. Locher, M. A., & Limberg, H. (2012). Introduction to advice in discourse. In H. Limberg & M. A. Locher (Eds.), Advice in discourse (pp. 1–27). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
  50. Martinovski, B. (2006). Framework for the analysis of mitigation in courts: Toward a theory of mitigation. Journal of Pragmatics, 38(12), 2065–2086.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Martinovski, B. (2015). Discourse analysis of emotion in face-to-face group decision and negotiation. In B. Martinovski (Ed.), Emotion in group decision and negotiation (pp. 137–188), Advances in Group Decision and Negotiation 7. Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  52. Martinovski, B., Mao, W., Gratch, J., & Marsella, S. (2005). Mitigation theory: and integrated approach. In Proceedings of cognitive science. Stresa: Italy. Retrieved from
  53. Martinovski, B., & Marsella, S. (2005). Theory of mind and coping in discourse. In Proceedings of artificial intelligence and the simulation of behavior (AISB), symposia on mind-minding agents, Hatfield, UK.Google Scholar
  54. McCormack, A., & Coulson, N.S. (2009). Individuals with eating disorders and the use of online support groups as a form of social support. Cyberspychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 3.2, article 5. Retrieved from
  55. Mercier, H. (2016). The argumentative theory: Predictions and empirical evidence. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 20(9), 689–700.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Mercier, H., & Sperber, D. (2009). Intuitive and reflective inferences. In J. S. B. T. Evans & K. Frankish (Eds.), In two minds (pp. 149–170). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  57. Mercier, H., & Sperber, D. (2011). Why do humans reason? Arguments for an argumentative theory. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 34(2), 57–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Mercier, H., & Sperber, D. (2017). The enigma of reason. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Origgi, G., & Sperber, D. (2000). Evolution, communication and the proper function of language. In P. Carruthers & A. Chamberlain (Eds.), Evolution and the human mind: Language, modularity and social cognition (pp. 140–169). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Placencia, M. E. (2012). Online peer-to-peer advice in Spanish Yahoo!Respuestas. In H. Limberg & M. A. Locher (Eds.), Advice in discourse (pp. 281–305). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Pomerantz, A. (1984). Agreeing and disagreeing with assessments: Some features of preferred/dispreferred turn shapes. In J. M. Atkinson & J. Heritage (Eds.), Structures of social action: Studies in conversation analysis (pp. 57–101). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  62. Preckel, K., Kanske, P., & Singer, T. (2018). On the interaction of social affect and cognition: Empathy, compassion and theory of mind. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 19, 1–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Pringle, A., Harmer, C. J., & Cooper, M. J. (2010a). Biases in emotional processing are associated with vulnerability to eating disorders over time. Eating Behaviors, 12, 56–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Pringle, A., Harmer, C. J., & Cooper, M. J. (2010b). Investigating vulnerability to eating disorders: Biases in emotional processing. Psychological Medicine, 40, 645–655.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Pudlinski, C. (2005). Doing empathy and sympathy: Caring responses to troubles tellings on a peer support line. Discourse Studies, 7(3), 267–288.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Riccioni, I., Bongelli, R., & Zuczkowski, A. (2014). Mitigation and epistemic positions in troubles talk: The giving advice activity in close interpersonal relationships. Some examples from Italian. Language & Communication, 39, 51–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Sacks, H. (1995). Lectures on conversation (Vol. II). Oxford: Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Samuels, R. (1998). Evolutionary psychology and the massive modularity hypothesis. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 49(4/1), 575–602.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Schwanenflugel, P. J., Fabricius, W. V., Noyes, C. R., Bigler, K. D., & Alexander, J. M. (1994). The organization of mental verbs and folk theories of knowing. Journal of Memory and Language, 33, 376–395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Shamay-Tsoory, S. G., Tomer, R., Goldsher, D., Berger, B. D., & Aharon-Peretz, J. (2004). Impairment in cognitive and affective empathy in patients with brain lesions: Anatomical and cognitive correlates. Journal of Clinical Experimental Neuropsychology, 26(8), 1113–1127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Sperber, D. (2000). Metarepresentations in an evolutionary perspective. In D. Sperber (Ed.), Metarepresentations: An interdisciplinary perspective (pp. 117–137). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  72. Sperber, D. (2001). An evolutionary perspective on testimony and argumentation. Philosophical Topics, 29, 401–413.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Sperber, D. (2002). In defense of massive modularity. In E. Dupoux (Ed.), Language, brain and cognitive development: Essays in honor of Jacques Mehler (pp. 47–57). Cambridge MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  74. Sperber, D. (2005). Modularity and relevance: How can a massively modular mind be flexible and context-sensitive? In P. Carruthers, S. Laurence, & S. Stich (Eds.), The innate mind: Structure and content (pp. 53–68). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Sperber, D., Clément, F., Heintz, C., Mascaro, O., Mercier, H., Origgi, G., et al. (2010). Epistemic vigilance. Mind and Language, 25, 359–393.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Sperber, D., & Wilson, D. (1986/1995). Relevance: Communication and cognition. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  77. Sperber, D., & Wilson, D. (2002). Pragmatics, modularity and mind-reading. Mind and Language, 17, 3–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Stitch, S., & Nichols, S. (1992). Folk psychology: Simulation or tacit theory? Mind and Language, 7(1–2), 35–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Szczyrbak, M. (2012). Mitigated disagreement in learner discussion for a: A facilitator’s perspective. Discourse and Interaction, 55–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Turner, R., & Felisberti, F. (2017). Measuring mindreading: A review of behavioral approaches to testing cognitive and affective mental state attribution in neurologically typical adults. Frontiers of Psychology, 24. Retrieved from
  81. Uzelqun, M. A., Mohammed, D., Lewinski, M., & Castro, P. (2015). Managing disagreement through yes, but… constructions: An argumentative analysis. Discourse Studies, 17, 467–484.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Vayreda, A., & Antaki, C. (2009). Social support and unsolicited advice in a bipolar disorder online forum. Qualitative Health Research, 19(7), 931–942.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Walther, J. B., & Boyd, S. (2002). Attraction to computer-mediated social support. In C. A. Lin & D. J. Atkin (Eds.), Communication technology and society: Audience adoption and uses (pp. 153–188). Cresskill: Hampton Press.Google Scholar
  84. Weatherall, A., & Keevallik, L. (2016). When claims of understanding are less than affiliative. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 49(3), 167–182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Wilson, D. (2000/2012). Metarepresentation in linguistic communication. In D. Sperber. (Ed.), Metarepresentations: An interdisciplinary perspective (pp. 411–448). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  86. Wilson, D. (2011). The conceptual-procedural distinction: past, present and future. In V. Escandell-Vidal, M. Leonetti, & A. Ahern (Eds.), Procedural meaning: Problems and perspectives (current research in the semantics/pragmatics interface) (pp. 3–31). Bingley: Emerald Group.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Wilson, D. (2016). Reassessing the conceptual-procedural distinction. Lingua, 175–176, 5–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Wilson, D. (2017). Relevance theory. In Y. Huang (Ed.), Oxford handbook of pragmatics (pp. 79–100). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  89. Wilson, D., & Sperber, D. (1993). Linguistic form and relevance. Lingua, 90, 1–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Facultat de FilologiaUniversitat de BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain

Personalised recommendations