On the book's website, Pennebaker features six simple linguistic exercises that have the potential to reveal aspects of your personality and your compatibility with others. I tried out a few of them...
The linguistic tool used for analyzing these descriptions is called "meaning extraction." The researchers first had hundreds of people describe the water bottle, then determined the most commonly used words, and finally factor analyzed the words to find clusters of words that tended to be found together. These clusters provide the basis for each of the personality dimensions that are assessed. Though the connection to personality (and career aptitude) is based partially on research evidence, it does involve some extrapolation, hence the warning to take the results with a grain of salt.
2. The "I" Exam (you can take it here). Spoiler Alert: Don't read this section yet if you want to take the quiz yourself first. In this quiz I was asked to guess who uses the word "I" more often - men or women, Bush or Obama, truth tellers or liars, etc. Many of the answers will surprise you (I'm familiar with this research and I still got a few of these wrong). For example, you might expect powerful people in leadership roles to say "I" more often than others, since "I" seems to be a word that signifies agency and control. It turns out, however, that the use of "I" is associated with a lower power role. If this seems strange, look back to emails you've exchanged with a higher power person, such as a professor or supervisor, compared to someone you instructed or supervised. Who used more first person pronouns (this includes me, my, and mine)? Pennbaker gives the following example:
Dear Dr. Pennebaker:
I was part of your Introductory Psychology class last semester. I have enjoyed your lectures and I've learned so much. I received an email from you about doing some research with you. Would there be a time for me to come by and talk about this?
Dear Pam -
This would be great. This week isn't good because of a trip. How about next Tuesday between 9 and 10:30? It will be good to see you.
In addition to signifying low power, first-person pronouns are associated with self-consciousness (they suggest that attention is focused on the self), insecurity, and depression. An analysis of poetry, for example, showed that well-known poets who went on to commit suicide tended to use more first-person pronouns in their poems.
To illustrate, here is the first stanza of Mad Girl's Lovesong, a poem by Sylvia Plath, who committed suicide at age 31:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
And here is the first stanza of The Ache of Marriage, a poem by Denise Levertov, who did not commit suicide:
The ache of marriage:
thigh and tongue, beloved,
are heavy with it,
it throbs in the teeth.
Most people do not do very well on the "I" quiz because in everyday life we pay little attention to people's use of first-person pronouns. But they are clearly far from meaningless, and it's possible that they still influence our social judgments without our explicit awareness.
If you take any of these tests yourself, let us know what you think in the comments section!
Ireland, M., & Pennebaker, J. (2010). Language style matching in writing: Synchrony in essays, correspondence, and poetry. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99 (3), 549-571 DOI: 10.1037/a0020386
Pennebaker, J., & Ireland, M. (2011). Using literature to understand authors: The case for computerized text analysis Scientific Study of Literature, 1 (1), 34-48 DOI: 10.1075/ssol.1.1.04pen