New Research in Psychological Science

Language-Style Similarity and Social Networks
Balazs Kovacs and Adam M. Kleinbaum

Friends seem to exhibit similar language styles, with language similarity predicting friendship formation and friendship increasing language similarity, this research suggests. Kovacs and Kleinbaum collected two writing samples from first-year university students: an application essay written before school started and an essay written for an exam 2 months after school started. They analyzed the linguistic style of the essays, namely pronoun usage. Kovacs and Kleinbaum also collected personality measures, demographic data, and two waves of social networking data (showing who was friends with whom). They found that students with similar linguistic styles in their application essays were more likely to become and stay friends. Moreover, students who became friends early in the school year converged toward similar linguistic styles by the time of the exam essay. These effects occurred even when controlling for gender, nationality, race, and personality. Kovacs and Kleinbaum also investigated whether linguistic similarity in Yelp reviews (online reviews about restaurants and other businesses) predicted users’ social networks (i.e., whom they followed/were followed by) and found similar results as with the students. These findings can be especially relevant for the digital age we live in, the authors say. They conjecture that in platforms dominated by textual communication, people will tend to connect with increasingly similar others and become increasingly similar to their contacts, paying attention to messages that reaffirm their preexisting beliefs, which may increase polarization as users talk primarily to others who share their views and fail to comprehend those who do not.

Cultural Variability in the Association Between Age and Well-Being: The Role of Uncertainty Avoidance
Smaranda Ioana Lawrie, Kimin Eom, Daniela Moza, Alin Gavreliuc, and Heejung S. Kim

The relationship between aging and well-being seems to depend on how one’s culture views uncertainty. Lawrie and colleagues retrieved World Values Survey self-ratings from several countries regarding individuals’ age, happiness, life satisfaction, and feelings of control over their lives. Each country’s uncertainty avoidance (i.e., the extent to which members of society feel uncomfortable with uncertainty, change, and ambiguity) was based on participants’ answers about work-related stress, inflexibility of rules, and intention to stay at one job or company for the long term. Results indicated that in countries with higher uncertainty avoidance, which tended to also be less economically developed, aging was more associated with negative well-being than in countries with lower uncertainty avoidance. In countries with lower uncertainty avoidance, older individuals reported higher control over their lives than younger individuals, which can be related to their improved well-being. Lawrie and colleagues also compared how participants from two countries with low and high uncertainty avoidance (United States and Romania, respectively) rated their well-being and which strategies they used for coping with stress. Older participants reported poorer well-being than younger participants in Romania but not in the United States. The authors explain that this might be because Romanians’ coping strategies tended not to change with age, whereas Americans used more high-control strategies (e.g., actively looking for solutions) than low-control strategies (e.g., avoiding the problems) as they got older. Lawrie and colleagues suggest that efforts to help people in cultures with high uncertainty avoidance cope with uncertainties associated with aging (e.g., by creating defined roles, such as volunteering and advising) may help to reduce age-related stress and promote well-being.

Infant and Adult Brains Are Coupled to the Dynamics of Natural Communication
Elise A. Piazza, Liat Hasenfratz, Uri Hasson, and Casey Lew-Williams

Piazza and colleagues used functional near-infrared spectroscopy—a noninvasive measure of blood oxygenation resulting from neural activity that is minimally affected by movements and thus allows participants to freely interact and move—to measure brain activation of infants (9–15 months old) and an adult while they communicated and played with each other. An adult experimenter either (a) engaged directly with the infant by playing with some toys, singing nursery rhymes, and reading a story or (b) performed those same tasks while being turned away from the child and directed to another adult in the room. Results indicated that when the adult interacted with the child (but not with the other adult), the activations of many prefrontal cortex (PFC) channels and some parietal channels were intercorrelated, indicating neural coupling. Both infant and adult PFC activation preceded moments of mutual gaze and increased before the infant smiled, with the infant’s PFC response preceding the adult’s. Infant PFC activity was also followed by an increase in pitch variability of the adult’s speech, although no changes occurred in the adult’s PFC, indicating that the adult’s speech probably did not influence neural coupling between the child and the adult. These findings suggest that the adult was sensitive to subtle cues from the infants, which in turn modified the adult’s brain responses and behaviors to improve alignment with, and maximize information transfer to, the infant. This research may advance what is known about infant–adult interactions, and tracking real-time brain activation provides an innovative measure of social interaction.

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