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Can your choice of words tell me if you’re depressed, suicidal or lying?

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The use of 1st person singular (I, me, my) versus 1st person plural (we, us, our) provides insight into people’s social identity and “ownership” of their speaking or writing topic. By the same token, references to other people suggest an awareness and, often, integration with others…

-Currently depressed students use far more 1st person singular words than those who have never been depressed when writing about their college experience…

-Poets who commit suicide tend to use more 1st person singular in their poetry across their careers than non-suicidal poets. They also make fewer references to other people, suggesting they are more socially isolated. Of particular interest is that the suicidal poets don’t differ from non-suicidal poets in their use of either negative or positive emotion words.

-Immediately after a large-scale trauma, individuals drop in their use of the “I” and increase in their use of “we.”… 

 -When people are being deceptive in laboratory experiments, they drop in their use of 1st person singular. Indeed, use of “I” is one of the best predictors of honesty…

-When people are asked to write about traumatic experiences, their flexibility in using pronouns is one of the most powerful predictors of improvements in physical health.

 And it seems we can also use words to heal ourselves:

…assigning participants to write about either superficial topics or important personal upheavals for 3-5 days and 15-30 minutes per day. Across an impressive array of studies, this technique has been found to bring about improvements among the emotional writing groups’s physical and mental health… writing about emotional topics is associated with drops in rumination and depression, as well as higher grades among students, and even faster times to employment following a layoff.

Source: Psychological Science Agenda

Hat tip to the excellent Twitter feed of Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker. Her new book is The Dragonfly Effect: Quick, Effective, and Powerful Ways To Use Social Media to Drive Social Change.

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About Eric Barker