What people say to each other is important. How they are saying it, may be even more telling. A new study published just in time for Valentine’s Day in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, reveals that people having similar speaking styles are more compatible, regardless of medium.
Study coauthors James Pennebaker, Professor and Chair and student Molly Ireland, both of the Department of Psychology at University of Texas at Austin, and their colleagues examined whether the speaking and writing styles couples adopt while conversing with each other predict future dating behavior and the long-term strength of relationships. The researchers focused on words they labelled “function words”. These aren’t nouns or verbs but they serve to show how those words relate and interact. Functional words are used all the time although explicitly defining them can be a challenge.
Function words are highly social and they require social skills to use,” Pennebaker explains. “For example, if I’m talking about the article that’s coming out, and in a few minutes I make some reference to ‘the article’, you and I both know what the article means.”
Someone who isn’t part of the conversation won’t know that. Often, we won’t even be aware that we are synchronizing our speaking or writing styles. It is how we do it, how we use so-called “functional words” that make up our writing and speaking style.
Researchers conducted two experiments investigation whether there was any link between communication styles and relationship potential. A computer program compared partners’ language styles in both experiments. What they discovered may surprise you.
In the first study, participants were recorded during four-minute speed date similar to those conducted around the country on almost night of the week. Each pair covered virtually the same topics and sounded more or less the same to the naked ear. The computer-aided text analysis however, revealed some stark contrasts in language synchrony. Pairs whose language styles demonstrated more matching scores than average were almost four times as likely to want future contact as pairs whose speaking styles were out of sync.
The second experiment looked at online chats and instant messages between dating couples over a 10 day period. The analysis of these communications revealed a similar pattern. Almost 80 of those couples whose writing style matched were still dating three months later compared to 54 percent of those whose styles didn’t match as well.
The unconscious nature of speech and writing style synchronization is particularly significant when using it to predict future behavior. Because we are not every aware the we are doing it, it becomes harder to artificially manipulate and consistently maintain.
“What’s wonderful about this is we don’t really make that decision, it just comes out of our mouths,” Pennebaker says.
Wonder whether you and your partner have matching language styles? Use James Pennebaker’s “In Synch: Language Style Matching” application at: www.utpsyc.org/synch/