Study looks at word choice during speed dates to determine relationships

Choice of words can determine choice in partner

Speed dating is just what the name says; you have very little time to get to know as much as you can about a total stranger before moving on to the next.  You ask questions to try to get a feel for their likes, dislikes, passions, etc.  But it may be the words that you use that could determine whether you and your potential date will make it to a private dinner for two.

Psychologist James Pennebaker shared some interesting research he completed with NPR.  He looked at the words that people used during speed dating, specifically function words, to determine the probability that a couple would hit it off.

Function words are words that help tie our sentences together, like "the" "this" and "there."  They're also considered filler words, and though they may seem insignificant, Pennebaker finds them fascinating.  Part of the reason why he is so intrigued by them is because people tend to ignore them.

"You can't hear them," Pennebaker told NPR. "Humans just aren't able to do it."

20 years ago, Pennebaker and some graduate students built a computer program to detect function words.  They then used the program to try to answer questions like "Could you tell if someone was lying by carefully analyzing the way they used function words?" or "What could you tell about relationships by looking at the way two people spoke to each other?"

Pennebaker used speed dating sessions to find the answers to his questions.  He fed recorded conversations from the speed dates along with information about how the people themselves were perceiving the dates. What he found surprised him.

"We can predict by analyzing their language, who will go on a date — who will match — at rates better than the people themselves," he says.

Pennebaker's study found that when two people used a language style that matched, they were more likely to end up on a date.  He says the people themselves don't have to be totally similar.  It's when we are around people we have a genuine interest in, our language subtly shifts.

"When two people are paying close attention, they use language in the same way," he says. "And it's one of these things that humans do automatically."

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