Who’s the VIP in the room? Find out by listening to the words people use. The higher one’s status in a situation, for example, the less one uses “I” in conversation. We also use “I” less in the weeks after a major cultural upheaval like 9/11 for Americans. As we age we tend to use more positively emotional words and refer to ourselves less. The higher one’s social class the fewer emotional words one uses.
From our truthfulness to dominance or our mood we are enormously revealing to others – if they know how to recognize the content and style of our words. That’s what University of Texas psychologist James W. Pennebaker is discovering.
Style words, according to Pennebaker, include conjunctions, articles, pronouns, prepositions and auxiliary verbs. Content words are nouns, regular verbs, and most adjectives and adverbs. The content words are what someone is saying and style words are how they are saying it.
Women use more negations, social words, pronouns, verbs, and references to psychological processes than men do. (Surprise.) Men tend to use more big words, numbers, articles and prepositions.
Pennebaker also discovered that:
• One’s health is more likely to improve, not with the increased use of “emotion” words (sad, happy, joyful) but with more use of cognitive words (know, realize, understand).
• Public figures speaking in press conferences use more 1st person
singular when they are depressed or prone to suicide.
• When people tell the truth, they are more like to use first person singular pronouns.
• People who talked about traumatic experiences are physically healthier than those who kept such experiences secret.
Three free ways to learn how you see yourself
and your world
Learn about your personality from the style words you use by taking Pennebaker’s online questionnaire. He will analyze the results for you for free if you’ll allow him to use the results in his research. Discover whether you are high or low in the classic “big five” dimensions of personality: neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.
You can quickly glean insights about how you see the world depending on how you describe something as simple as a bottle, using what Pennebaker calls “the meaning extraction strategy.”
Or take just 15 minutes to describe yourself and learn even more.