The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us
James W. Pennebaker
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In The Secret Life of Pronouns, social psychologist and language expert James W. Pennebaker uses his groundbreaking research in computational linguistics-in essence, counting the frequency of words we use-to show that our language carries secrets about our feelings, our self-concept, and our social intelligence. Our most forgettable words, such as pronouns and prepositions, can be the most revealing: their patterns are as distinctive as fingerprints.
Using innovative analytic techniques, Pennebaker X-rays everything from John McCain's tweets to the Federalist Papers. Who would have predicted that the high school student who uses too many verbs in her college admissions essay is likely to make lower grades in college? Or that a world leader's use of pronouns could reliably presage whether he will lead his country into war? You'll learn what Lady Gaga and William Butler Yeats have in common, and how Ebenezer Scrooge's syntax hints at his self-deception and repressed emotion in this sprightly, surprising tour of what our words are saying-whether we mean them to or not.
that all people were asked to write about some of the most troubling experiences of their entire lives. Younger people could dredge up an impressive number of dark words to express their pain. As writers got older and older, their negative emotion vocabulary diminished and their positive emotion word count skyrocketed. As you can see on the next page, the very youngest writer in this sample, who was eight years old, had a very different approach to the subject of his emotional story (Randy) than
just joined my research team. “Martha,” I casually told her, “I’ve got a great idea for a new program that should only take about three weeks to develop.” Martha E. Francis turned out to be a creative programmer with a flair for social psychology, though she had no idea what she was getting into. Although the guts of the program were written very quickly, the “three-week project” took on a life of its own. In three years, we finally rolled out the first version of a computer program we called
book, first-person singular pronouns are important. In deception research, the word I (including I’m, I’ll, I’d, I’ve, and related contractions) is the best single marker of a person’s being honest. The use of I-words has tremendous social and psychological significance. By definition, it is an identity statement. Using I in conversation is announcing to your speaking companion that you are aware of yourself, that you are paying attention to yourself. There is a certain degree of vulnerability
computer displays were programmed to have random numbers continuously float across the top of the screens. For half of the conversations, the people were told to just ignore the floating numbers. In the other half of the conversations, one of the partners was told to count the number of times that the number 7 appeared. The people they were talking with, however, were told to ignore the numbers and didn’t know that that their partner was multitasking by keeping track of the floating numbers. In
Public Relations and to those at the executive level. It is uncertain how and when our senior partners will deal with this. But if you start getting the cold shoulder, you will know why. When I first heard of this, I was surprised, but took what he said at face value. Of course, this was before I learned of his voracious appetite for propagating half-truths, gossip, and outright lies, all in the name of somehow making himself look knowledgeable and “better.” Such a pity. He obviously has