What distinguishes a fling that ends in tears from long-term love? Past research suggests that the most successful couples share common interests, values and personality traits. Now new research published in Psychological Science proposes that the simplest words lovebirds use to speak to each other also make a difference—both in determining how attracted they are and how likely they are to stay together.
James Pennebaker and his colleagues at the University of Texas at Austin recorded 40 men and 40 women as they participated in a speed-dating exercise in which they talked to 12 strangers of the opposite sex for four minutes apiece. Later, the subjects rated each date based on how much they seemed to have in common and whether they wanted to see the person again. Pennebaker analyzed the participants’ conversations based on their use of pronouns and articles, such as “him,” “the,” “and,” “as” and “be.” These function words are used in most contexts and are processed rapidly and unconsciously. [For more on how Pennebaker uses function words to reveal personality and other traits, see “You Are What You Say,” by Jan Donges; Scientific American Mind, July/August 2009.]
Read more: Scientific American