:: Dr. James Pennebaker

Dr. James Pennebaker Book Cover for Secret Life of Pronouns
UT psychologist Dr. James Pennebaker’s new
book explores the hidden links between word
usage and psychology.

Posted: August 7, 2013

Combining Laughter and Cutting-edge Research in the Virtual Classroom

This fall’s PSY 301 - Introduction to Psychology has been compared to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart by one of its co-instructors, Dr. James Pennebaker. This comparison gets at the heart of what makes this course an exclusive learning experience. It isn’t a typical online class in form or structure; it’s a live, interactive show hosted by two world-class psychologists. It’s thoroughly academic, but also entertaining. The addition of humor is important to Pennebaker, who values entertainment in the classroom. “When you laugh, you remember,” he says, smiling.

Entertaining students comes naturally for Pennebaker, who sees psychology as more than a dry lecture on psychoanalysis. Instead, he calls it an exciting, scientific discipline that pulls back the curtain on how individuals think, feel, and connect with others. With this excitement and curiosity, he stumbled upon a radical theory connecting word-choice and frequency with thought patterns. “When you have someone’s words, you have a sense for how they’re thinking,” he says.

He has performed this unique blend of hard and social science on speed-dating couples, the Beatles, presidential candidates, and terrorist organizations, and he even wrote the book on the subject. “The Secret Life of Pronouns,” out in 2013, got the attention of The New York Times, social scientists, and curious individuals everywhere. Pennebaker continues to research these unconscious written clues on his website Wordwatchers, where he analyzes word-usage in presidential press-conferences, and through responses to the free online tests and quizzes on his personal website.

Lately, Pennebaker is interested in bringing this cutting-edge research and technology to the classroom. Rather than simply memorizing a series of facts, PSY 301 students get to take part in the research. Through class interactions, students get to see firsthand what their words say about their thoughts. “What we’re doing is part of a profound movement,” Pennebaker says. “We’re looking at how people are thinking, how people are performing… This isn’t something you will see anywhere else.”

For the first time, non-UT students can participate in this innovative course by registering through University Extension. Students working toward a college degree can register for transferrable credit, while those interested in just being part of something extraordinary can register as “auditors,” with no academic credit. Come and join the show!

The deadline to register to receive credit was 3 p.m. on Tuesday, September 3, 2013.

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