The I-metric

The I-metric

Psychologist James Pennebaker looks at the hidden meaning in the language you use in a new book The Secret Life of Pronouns, particularly regarding the pronoun “I:”

[W]e discovered that in any interaction, the person with the higher status uses I-words less (yes, less) than people who are low in status. The effects were quite robust and, naturally, I wanted to test this on myself. I always assumed that I was a warm, egalitarian kind of guy who treated people pretty much the same.

When he investigated his own email:

When undergraduates wrote me, their emails were littered with I, me, and my. My response, although quite friendly, was remarkably detached – hardly an I-word graced the page. And then I analyzed my emails to the dean of my college. My emails looked like an I-word salad; his emails back to me were practically I-word free.

Further fascinating, Pennebaker can predict people’s college performances (and perhaps other future performances?) by analyzing college admissions essays. The use of nouns suggests people are categorizers. Using verbs and pronouns suggests people are storytellers.

The next email that comes through your inbox, look no further than the words he or she chooses — or not — to use.