Bloggers' word choice bares their personality traits, study finds

Jan 11, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Words convey meaning, but our choice of specific words also conveys details about our personalities, new research confirms. For example, extraverts are likely to use the word "mouth" frequently, and "open" personalities are likely to use words like "folk," "poetry" and "universe."

In one of the largest studies on the matter to date, Tal Yarkoni, a and neuroscience postdoctoral fellow at the University of Colorado at Boulder, explores what our written reveal about us.

His work also rebuts the widely held belief that people can maintain distinctly different offline and online personalities. Yarkoni's research was published in the Journal of Research in Personality and was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Several previous studies have identified a nexus between language usage and personality. But prior studies used writing or speech samples that were limited in size and focused on relatively broad dimensions of personality.

By studying language use in a large sample of bloggers, Yarkoni surmounted these obstacles.

"People have been interested in personality and language for a long time, but it's really hard to get somebody to sit down and write 100,000 words. The nice thing about bloggers is they write a lot, often over very long periods of time," he said.

Yarkoni's data bear this out. On average, each of the nearly 700 bloggers in his sample provided more than 115,000 words of text, representing more than a novel's worth of material -- many times what previous studies have used.

These larger samples "provided the ability to identify not only really large effects, which smaller studies can do, but also more subtle relationships," Yarkoni said.

"And they let us look at things you can't really look at with small writing samples," he said. "For instance, are there specific words that people with different personalities tend to use more? Previous studies have really only been able to look at broad categories made up of many words."

For example, Yarkoni was able to determine that highly neurotic people tend to use specific negative adjectives like "terrible" and "worse" more, rather than just observing that they use more negative words generally.

The "Big Five" personality traits are openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. The top five words used by each of the Big Five traits varied as follows:

For those showing neuroticism, the top five were: "awful," "though," "lazy," "worse" and "depressing."

Among extroverts, the top hits were: "bar," "other," "drinks," "restaurant" and "dancing."

Among those showing openness, the top five were: "folk," "humans," "of," "poet" and "art."

Agreeable personalities most often used these words: "wonderful," "together," "visiting," "morning" and "spring."

And conscientious personalities used these most often: "completed," "adventure," "stupid," "boring" and "adventures."

Yarkoni's analyses also found unexpected correlations that initially appeared to contradict previous research.

For example, agreeable people often used sexual words. That finding was counterintuitive, because highly agreeable people usually avoid doing things that might offend others, like using sexually charged language.

It turned out that many of these counterintuitive findings had a simple explanation: the word categories used in previous studies were so broad, they masked differences at the level of individual words.

The "sexual words" category, as it turned out, contained distinct clusters of words that reflected either affection (such as "love," "loving," "hugs" etc.) or sex (such as "porn"). Agreeable people were more likely to use the former, but much less likely to use the latter.

When all the words were lumped together, however, it looked like agreeable people talked more about sex. The context and meaning provided by Yarkoni's study unraveled the puzzle.

"The results converge with other recent findings suggesting that, contrary to popular wisdom, people do not present themselves in an idealized and overly positive way online, and maintain online identities that reflect the way they genuinely see themselves and are seen by others," he explained.

Yarkoni notes that the overlap between offline and online selves shouldn't be surprising.

"If you're sociable and like to seek out people offline, you're probably going to do the same thing online," he said. "If you complain a lot when you're around your offline friends, you may very well complain about similar things in your online blog. Our personalities don't dramatically change just because we've turned on our computers."

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User comments : 11

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freethinking
1.3 / 5 (7) Jan 11, 2011
Otto and SH - I hope you guys are the exception. I was hoping you guys were nice and caring people not like the people you portray on physorg.
haversine
5 / 5 (3) Jan 11, 2011
Extraverts, eh? So I suppose, unlike extroverts, extra-verts tend to use a lot of unnecessary words?
Moebius
3.5 / 5 (8) Jan 11, 2011
This sounds like a large load of horse crap to me. The article leaves out major info. How did he determine the psych of 700 bloggers? Did he give each of the 700 bloggers a psych eval before he analyzed their blogs? That seems unlikely.
Caliban
2.7 / 5 (7) Jan 11, 2011
Otto and SH - I hope you guys are the exception. I was hoping you guys were nice and caring people not like the people you portray on physorg.


Pot: meet Kettle.

soulman
3.7 / 5 (9) Jan 12, 2011
The "Big Five" personality traits are openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

They left out the category of delusional cranks, which in this microcosm would include:

Marjon, Quantum Conundrum, freethinking, JustSayin, kevintrs, Zephyr. There are others that are borderline, if not quite as bad.
freethinking
1 / 5 (4) Jan 12, 2011
Soulman, Caliban, in real life, if those who you listed knew who you were and if you ever need help my guess is they most likely would help you(at least Marjon, QC, don't know the others) Most likely and based on your comments, if you, SH, Caliban, Otto would know who we were and if we needed help, my guess is you wouldn't help.

I'm sure if SH knew who we were he would try and out us, or harrass us, or hurt us.

If we need help, guessing from they way they present themselves
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (2) Jan 12, 2011
Otto and SH - I hope you guys are the exception. I was hoping you guys were nice and caring people not like the people you portray on physorg.


Pot: meet Kettle.



Oh the irony.
Caliban
3.4 / 5 (5) Jan 12, 2011
Soulman, Caliban, in real life, if those who you listed knew who you were and if you ever need help my guess is they most likely would help you[...]I'm sure if SH knew who we were he would try and out us, or harrass us, or hurt us.

If we need help, guessing from they way they present themselves


Well, then, freethhinking -you'd be guessin' wrong.
While I cannot authoritatively speak for others you mention(though I'm pretty sure they would), I can emphatically state that if anyone asks me for help -ANYONE- then they will receive whatsoever help I am able to provide.

I would hope for the same from you, but you make it sound as though as though you would withold assistance based upon your prejudice.

That's too bad, as the world would be a much better place absent that attitude.

Consider trying to make the distinction between the viewpoints debated here from the character of the real persons that argue them. It seems you do for some, already, so -why not all?

Caliban
3.4 / 5 (5) Jan 12, 2011
Otto and SH - I hope you guys are the exception. I was hoping you guys were nice and caring people not like the people you portray on physorg.


Pot: meet Kettle.



Oh the irony.


Oh, the irony, indeed.
Mira_Musiclab
5 / 5 (1) Jan 12, 2011
That's why I have a completed profile myself..

Forces me to think more carefully about what I say, and be willing to back it with an actual face...

And really, enough with the polarizing, it doesn't help either side win 'points'.. My bet is most of you are fairly decent, helpful people in reality. Right-Left, Religious or not, no side holds a monopoly on 'nice'. It's just what you do with the beliefs you hold..
Skeptic_Heretic
3 / 5 (1) Jan 13, 2011
Soulman, Caliban, in real life, if those who you listed knew who you were and if you ever need help my guess is they most likely would help you(at least Marjon, QC, don't know the others) Most likely and based on your comments, if you, SH, Caliban, Otto would know who we were and if we needed help, my guess is you wouldn't help.

I'm sure if SH knew who we were he would try and out us, or harrass us, or hurt us.

If we need help, guessing from they way they present themselves

Nah, you're one of those Free Market misologists. Why would you want my help? If anything you'd probably spit in my face for giving you an entitlement.