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Surprising Science

What Pronouns Can Tell You About Your Sex Life

The words we pay the least attention to in conversations–connectors like ‘the’, ‘this’, ‘that’, ‘and’, etc.–are highly reflective of our sexual desire and our relative place in society. 

What’s the Latest Development?

The words we pay the least attention to in conversation–connectors like ‘the’, ‘this’, ‘there’, ‘and’ and ‘that’–reflect our sexual desire and our place in society, says U of Texas psychologist James Pennebaker. By analyzing conversations recorded during speed dates, Pennebaker could predict which couples were sexually interested in each other and which were likely to see each other again after the first date. “Pennabaker found that when the language style of two people matched, i.e. when they used pronouns, prepositions, articles and so forth in similar ways at similar rates, they were much more likely to end up on a date.”

What’s the Big Idea?

Another clue as to how language reflects, and perhaps helps build, our social organizations is the use of personal pronouns, particularly ‘I’. In social correspondence like emails and letters, Pennebaker says people who are higher on the social totem use fewer personal pronouns, while those with lower status, who are more self-conscious of how they come across, use ‘I’ more frequently. So can we change our lives by changing our language? Doubtful, says Pennebaker. “The words reflect who we are more than drive who we are,” he said. 

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