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A word tells 1000 things

Posted on: Thursday, January 28, 2016 Category: Uncategorized (59)

Social psychologist James W. Pennebaker of the University of Texas at Austin developed a computer program that analyzes text, called Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC, pronounced “Luke”).  In 2007 he and  co-workers analyzed 58 texts by Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s second in command for the FBI.

The researchers used pronouns to psychologically profile the protaganists.  Between 2004 and 2006 the frequency with which al-Zawahiri used the word “I” tripled, whereas it remained constant in bin Laden’s writings.

“Normally, higher rates of ‘I’ words correspond with feelings of insecurity, threat and defensiveness.” Pennebaker said.  When they looked at the word in context, this was confirmed.

Other studies found that words used to express balance or nuance (“except,” “but,”) are associated with better grades and even truthfulness. For bin Laden, they found that his thought processes in his texts had reached a higher level over time, whereas his lieutenant’s had stagnated.

Some other findings:

  • Gender: Women tend to use more pronouns and refer to other people. Men are more likely to use ‘a’ and ‘the’, prepositions and big words.
  • Age: As people get older, they refer to themselves less, use more positive-emotion  and fewer negative-emotion words, and use more future-tense than past-tense verbs.
  • Honesty: When telling the truth, people are more likely to use “I.” They also use exclusive words such as “except” and “but.” This shows someone making a distinction between what they did and didn’t do—liars aren’t so complex.

Source: Scientific American

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