Wednesday, May 02, 2012

The Little Words Show a Couple's Mutual Interest

James Pennebaker, a U. of Texas psychologist, studies what happens to our use of function words - the, this, though, I, and, an, there, that - when we converse with other people.  He studied speed-dating couples. He found that when both used these words the same way and at the same rate, they were more likely to go on a real date.

This was not because, as I would have thought, these speech patterns showed an underlying similarity. Other studies have shown that couples with similarly complex vocabularies are more attracted to one another and make more stable marriages.  But that is not what is going on here.  Everyone uses function words.

Pennebaker concludes:
"When two people are paying close attention, they use language in the same way," he says. "And it's one of these things that humans do automatically."

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