What Verbal "Tells" May Reveal About Someone's Personality
New research explores the relationship between personality and word use.
Posted Nov 19, 2020
Language serves as a window into the mind, or so say psychologists. So it should come as no surprise that the way we speak can reveal important information about our underlying personality traits.
Here are five of the more interesting findings about the connection between personal characteristics and language use that psychologists have made in past research.
- Narcissists were more likely to use swear words and less like to use tentative words, such as "maybe," "perhaps," and "guess."
- Couples that used more "we" pronouns tended to be more interdependent and satisfied in their relationship.
- Christians tended to use more positive emotion words than atheists.
- Extraverts were more likely to have powerful voices. They were also less likely to use first-person pronouns.
- Use of the word "I" was associated with measures of depression, negative emotion, and neuroticism.
A new article published in the Journal of Research in Personality adds a sixth bullet point to this list.
A team of psychologists led by Jiayu Chen of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore reported evidence that extraverts are more likely to use “positive emotion words” and “social process words." The researchers define positive emotion words as words that describe a pleasant emotional state, such as “love,” “happy,” or “blessed,” or that indicate positivity or optimism, such as “beautiful” or “nice.” They define social process words as words containing personal pronouns, except “I,” and words indicating social intentions, such as “share,” “talk,” and “meet.”
“Given the unprecedented opportunity provided by Big Data, a growing number of studies have tried to predict personality based on linguistic markers in social media using machine learning approaches,” state the researchers. “For example, extraversion was found to be related to positive emotion words in tweets, Facebook status updates, and blogs. In addition, extraversion is positively correlated with the use of social process words in self-narratives, personal essays, and emails.”
The researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 31 of these previous research studies to understand the strength of the relationship between extraversion and word use. Across the studies, they found a small but statistically significant correlation.
On one hand, their work suggests that linguistic markers may not be all that indicative of one’s underlying personality traits. The average correlation was found to be .069 for positive emotion words and .077 for social process words. This is far from the explanatory power contained in even a short-form personality test. On the other hand, one can imagine that prediction algorithms will get better over time.
“With an increasing interest in using Big Data to predict personality, our findings call for future research to explore other linguistic analysis methods and find stronger linguistic predictors of extraversion,” state the researchers.
In fact, emerging research has shown promise. One study found that personality traits such as self-control and materialism could be partly predicted from one’s credit card activity. Other research has found Facebook and Twitter activity to be strongly associated with the Big Five personality dimensions.
The researchers also point out that their findings clearly reflect the current definition of extraversion. They state, “Our findings are consistent with the conceptualization of extraversion as a trait that reflects the tendency to experience positive emotion and engage in social interactions.”
Chen, J., Qiu, L., & Ho, M. H. R. (2020). A meta-analysis of linguistic markers of extraversion: Positive emotion and social process words. Journal of Research in Personality, 89, 104035.