Matching Language, True Love?01/12/11
WEDNESDAY, Jan. 12 (HealthDay News) -- The next time you have a
first date, forget about chemistry and common interests.
What really matters, new research suggests, is whether your
language styles match.
How can you boost the chances of that, you ask? Well, it's kind
of like chemistry -- it's there or it isn't.
The kind of language style the researchers focused on was the
use of such words as personal pronouns (I, his, their); articles
(a, the); prepositions (in, under), and adverbs (very, rather) --
the types of words most people don't give much thought to.
But when this language style is in synch with someone else's,
well, the sparks might just fly, said study author James
Pennebaker, the chair of psychology at the University of Texas at
Austin. He and his colleagues evaluated the language style of 40
men and 40 women who were speed dating and found that the more it
matched, the better. When speed daters picked their matches, they
tended to go for those whose language style matched their own, he
"You are four times more likely to match and probably go on a date if your language style matching is even just above average," he said.
In a second study, Pennebaker's team looked at 86 couples'
instant message exchanges and found that language style matching
mattered there, too. Participants were age 19, on average, many of
them living in different towns as they attended school.
"These are wonderful groups to study," Pennebaker said. "They have notoriously unstable relationships."
They had to be dating at least six months. "What we found is if
their IMs were high in language style matching they were much more
likely to be together three months later," he said.
Those with the highest matching, he said, "were 50 percent more
likely to be dating at follow-up."
The study was recently published online in the journal
Some experts think you are attracted to a person and begin to
talk like them. Others say when someone talks like you, you are
attracted to them.
It may be a bit of both, Pennebaker said. And he feels that
paying attention to the other person plays in, as well.
The new research may actually help reduce nervousness for
first-time daters, said Jeffrey Hancock, an associate professor of
communication at Cornell University. Because you can't give someone
instructions in how to have their subtle language style match
another's, he said, the only advice is "be yourself."
And cut yourself some slack, perhaps. "If you interact the same
way the other [person] interacts, you are going to be in good
shape," Hancock said. "If you don't, it's not your fault."
He agrees that paying attention to the other person also counts
and, like language style, comes naturally. "If I really like you, I
am going to pay attention," he said.
The new study shows that "the words we choose in everyday
interactions are related to the success of our relationships,
including whether the relationship progresses from a casual meeting
to a romantic relationship and whether we resolve conflicts," said
Rachel Simmons, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at New York
In her own research, she has found that couples who use more "I"
and "we" words solve problems better than those who use more "you"
She, too, thinks the language matching works both ways. "The
more a person matches your speech and behavior patterns, the more
you like them. The more you like them, the more you match their
speech and behavior."
Pennebaker is co-developer and owner of a text analysis program,
and donates profits from sales of that program to the
To learn more about language matching, visit the
University of Texas at Austin.
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