Monday, October 11, 2010

The Language Of Happiness

Jack Dikian

October 2010

A new study has found that people match each other's language styles more during happier periods of their relationship than at other perhaps more uneasy times.

According to James Pennebaker and Molly Ireland from the University of Texas at Austin the speech patterns used between partners can be bellwethers of the state of the relationship.

As well as Linguistic style matching (LSM) algorithms being used to calculate verbal mimicry through automated textual analysis systems, LSM algorithms have also been applied to language generated during small group discussions and the analysis of tone and style of language in response to essay questions by students.

Automated approachs such as this is said to be an objective, efficient, and unobtrusive tool for predicting underlying social dynamics. The study demonstrates the effectiveness of using language to predict change in social psychological factors of interest.

Findings reveal that people match each other’s language styles more during happier periods of their relationship than at other times. "When two people start a conversation, they usually begin talking alike within a matter of seconds," says James Pennebaker, psychology professor and co-author of the study(1). "This also happens when people read a book or watch a movie. As soon as the credits roll, they find themselves talking like the author or the central characters."

As mentioned, the study also confirmed that language style matching extends to written material. When an essay question, for example, was written in a direct and confusing tone, students in the study responded with a similar direct and confusing answers. When the question took a flighty, casual tone, students responded similarly with the material peppered with words such as "like" and "sorta."

Style-matching scores can be calculated over material written by historical figures and are said to reveal the degree of closeness by well know partners. For example, LSM scores were calculated between poetry written by two pairs of spouses, Victorian poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning (How do I love thee? fame) and 20th century poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, which mapped major changes in their relationships.

Also, a similar analysis between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, psychologists who corresponded almost weekly for seven years. Using style-matching statistics, the researchers were able to chart the two men's tempestuous relationship from their early days of joint admiration to their final days of mutual contempt.


  • Study published in the September issue of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

  • The language of happiness Oct 5th 2010, 20:14 by G.L. The Economist Blog

No comments:

Post a Comment