Language style matching in relationships

New research suggests that people, particularly those who are happy in relationships, tend to match their language to those of those around them or to authors they have just read. Here are some of the findings:

Pennebaker and his colleagues tracked language use by 2,000 college students responding to class assignments written in different language styles. The results confirmed that language style matching extends to the written word. When an essay question was written in a dry, confusing tone, students responded with dry, confusing answers. If the question took a flighty, casual tone, students responded with “Valley girl”-like answers peppered with “like” and “sorta.”

Next, the researchers used historical figures to find out if language style matching could reveal schisms or closeness in a relationship.

They began with 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 by counting the ways they used pronouns, prepositions and other words, such as “the,” “you,” “a” and “as,” that have little meaning outside the context of the sentence. Such words can be indicators of a person’s style of writing (and speaking)…

Married Victorian Poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, along with 20th century poet couple Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, also revealed more in their poetry than they perhaps realized.

I’ll have to watch for this. How much do others typically pick up on this when being around people who are matching each other’s language? Is this how we know people “are good together”?

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