Psychology News: Free Online App Predicts Relationship Compatibility

Psychology News: Free Online App Predicts Relationship Compatibility

Are you and your ‘special someone’ on the same page? Are you clicking? In synch? Seeing eye to eye? Communicating effectively?

Dr. James Pennebaker and doctoral student Molly Ireland and their colleagues at the University of Texas at Austin examined whether the speaking and writing styles couples use in conversation with each other predict their future dating behaviour and its long-term potential.

Their study published in Psychological Science, The Language of Young Love: The Ways Couples Talk Can Predict Relationship Success proved that people with similar writing styles are more compatible.

They developed a free online application that you can use to test your relationship compatibility by entering a sample of text from your IMs, emails, text messages, even transcribed conversations, or general writing samples between you and another person.

The application determines to what degree you both use similar language styles.

For over a decade, Pennebaker and colleagues, through various studies have investigated how the words we use reflect who we are and what we are up to.

What is special about their research is that their analysis isn’t based on simply deciphering the meaning of words or the use of certain words in a text. For example, in the phrases below, you can see what kinds of problems might arise when just analyzing the “meaning? of words in a text:

“I’m mad about my lover.?

“He’s mad as a hatter.?

The word “mad? in these two cases obviously has a very different meaning.

So, what did they discover?

They found our personalities reveal themselves more when one analyzes the use of “junk words”.

What are “junk words”?

Junk words (function words) are the pronouns, prepositions, articles, conjunctions, and auxiliary verbs we use to cement our content words together when we make sentences.

Example from, The Psychological Functions of Function Words:

Person A: I’d have to say that I like ice cream.

Person B: The experience of eating a scoop of ice cream is certainly quite satisfactory.

Person C: Yummy. Good stuff.

“All three are saying essentially the same thing, but their ways of expressing themselves are hinting at other issues: Person A is a bit tentative; Person B is overly formal and stiff; Person C more easy-going and uninhibited. The three people differ in their pronoun usage, use of large versus small words, verbosity, and dozens of other dimensions. We can begin to detect linguistic style by paying attention to “junk words” those words that do not convey much in the way of content.”

The use of words like “the” “a” “be” “anything” “that” “will” “him” and “and” are what determine our writing styles.

Dr. James Pennebaker says, “Function words are highly social and they require social skills to use.?

For example:

“I can’t believe that he gave her the ring.?

“I can’t believe that he gave her a ring.?

“The difference between “the? ring and “a? ring is subtle but significant. These sentences hint to possible differences in the speaker’s and audiences’ shared knowledge, contexts, and interpersonal relationships.”

“Almost 80 percent of the couples whose writing style matched were still dating three months later, compared with approximately 54 percent of the couples who didn’t match as well.”

You can try James Pennebaker’s “In Synch: Language Style Matching” application online to find out how you match up! Once you enter your words in the interaction and then the other person’s words, you will get a number back that assesses the degree to which the two of you match. This number called a language style matching, or LSM score, ranges from about .50 to 1.00. The closer you are to 1.00, the more in synch the two of you are.

This score fluctuates according to how well you are getting along at the time and the quality of the text samples, so it may not be indicative of the overall relationship.

I got a .69 with my best friend. Hmmm. How did you score?


The Language of Young Love: The Ways Couples Talk Can Predict Relationship Success Association for Psychological Science
The Psychological Functions of Function Words Cindy Chung and James Pennebaker