Wednesday, August 31, 2011
The words people use are like fingerprints, revealing amazing insight into their personalities, emotional health, thinking style, group status and relationships. Social psychologist James W. Pennebaker, uses his groundbreaking research in computational linguistics to analyze pronouns, articles, prepositions, and a handful of other small function words in his latest book “The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us” (Bloomsbury Press, August 2011).
“On their own, function words have very little meaning,” says Pennebaker, the Liberal Arts Foundation Centennial Professor and Psychology Department chair. “In English, there are fewer than 500 function words yet they account for more than half of the words we speak, hear and read every day. Who would have guessed that words like I, you, the, to, but, and and could say so much about us.”
Pennebaker has been able to detect everything from when a person is lying to how well his or her relationship is going. He even delves into politics, discovering why President Barack Obama uses “I” less than any modern president of the United States.
“People across the board think that Obama uses the word ‘I’ at incredibly high rates, but if you do an analysis he uses the word ‘I’ at lower rates than any modern president, by a lot,” Pennebaker says.
Comparably, former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush used “I” at very high rates. Pennebaker finds that people who use “I” at higher rates tend to come across as more personal, warm and honest. While people who use “I” at lower rates come across as more self-confident. He attributes people thinking of Obama using “I” at such high rates, due to his self confidence and the misconception that confident people must use “I” all the time. He also finds that the highest status person in a relationship tends to use “I” the least, and the person who is the lowest status tends to use the word “I” the most.
Don’t miss the book signing at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 1, at BookPeople located at the corner of Lamar and 6th Street in Austin.