From our truthfulness to our acts of 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 The Secret Life of Pronouns author and University of Texas psychologist James W. Pennebaker discovered and described in his TEDx talk.
Who’s the most important person in the room? Find out by listening to the words people use:
- High status, confident people use fewer “I” words, not more. The higher one’s status in a situation, for example, the less one uses “I” in conversation.
- When people are feeling confident, they’re focused on the task at hand, not on themselves.
- We also use “I” less in the weeks after a major cultural upheaval like the 9/11 attack for Americans.
- As we age we tend to use more positive emotional words and refer to ourselves less.
- The higher one’s social class the fewer emotional words one uses.
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. Yet the way women speak means we are, “more self-aware and open to self-reflection” believes Pennebaker, which must make him very popular with many of us women.
Pennebaker also discovered that:
- There are three ways people often speak when they are lying
- 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 first 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.
- When people’s testosterone levels increased rapidly, they dropped in their use of references to other people.
- People who talked about traumatic experiences or open up about another kind of painful truth are physically healthier than those who kept such experiences secret.
Three Free Ways to Learn How You See Yourself and Your World:
One: 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.
Two: 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.”
Three: Take just 15 minutes to describe yourself and learn even more.