You can tell a person’s personality from the words they use. Neurotics have a penchant for negative words; agreeable types for words pertaining to socialising; and so on. We know this from recordings of people’s speech and from brief writing tasks. Now Tal Yarkoni has extended this line of research to the blogosphere by analysing the content of 694 blogs – containing an average of 115,000 words written over an average period of about two years – and matching this with the bloggers’ (predominantly female; average age 36) answers to online personality questionnaires.
Some commentators have suggested that the internet allows people to present idealised versions of themselves to the world. Contrary to that idea, Yarkoni found that bloggers’ choice of words consistently related to their personality type just as has been found in past offline research.
More neurotic bloggers used more words associated with negative emotions; extravert bloggers used more words pertaining to positive emotions; high scorers on agreeableness avoided swear words and used more words related to communality; and conscientious bloggers mentioned more words with achievement connotations. These were all as expected. More of a surprise was the lack of a link between the Big Five personality factor of ‘openness to experience’ and word categories related to intellectual or sensory experience. Instead openness was associated with more use of prepositions, more formal language and longer words.
The sheer size of the data set at Yarkoni’s disposal allowed him to look not only at links between personality factors and broad word categories (as past research has done) but to also zoom in on the usage of specific words. Among the most strong and intriguing correlations were: Neuroticism correlated with use of ‘irony’ and negatively correlated with ‘invited’; Extraversion correlated with ‘drinks’ and negatively correlated with ‘computer’; Openness correlated with ‘ink’; Agreeableness with ‘wonderful’ and negatively correlated with ‘porn’; and Conscientiousness correlated with ‘completed’ and negatively correlated with ‘boring’.
‘The results underscore the importance of studying the influence of personality on word use at multiple levels of analysis,’ Yarkoni concluded, ‘and provide a novel approach for refining existing categorical word taxonomies and identifying new and unexpected associations with personality.’
Yarkoni, T. (2010). Personality in 100,000 Words: A large-scale analysis of personality and word use among bloggers. Journal of Research in Personality, 44 (3), 363-373 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2010.04.001
On a related note, don’t forget our recent Bloggers Behind the (psychology) Blogs interview series.