Function words – those unassuming “filler” words like the, this, though, I, an, there, and, that – are mightier than you think. For one, they’re a very good predictor of sex and love.
Yes, sex and love. Now that I’ve got your attention, on to the story of how analyzing the patterns of the use of these words in speech between two strangers in a speed dating scenario can be a very good predictor of who will get the date…
“We can predict by analyzing their language, who will go on a date — who will match — at rates better than the people themselves,” he says.
Specifically, what Pennabaker found was that when the language style of two people matched, when they used pronouns, prepositions, articles and so forth in similar ways at similar rates, they were much more likely to end up on a date.
“The more similar [they were] across all of these function words, the higher the probability that [they] would go on a date in a speed dating context,” Pennebaker says. “And this is even cooler: We can even look at … a young dating couple… [and] the more similar [they] are … using this language style matching metric, the more likely [they] will still be dating three months from now.”
This is not because similar people are attracted to each other, Pennebaker says; people can be very different. It’s that when we are around people that we have a genuine interest in, our language subtly shifts.
Alix Spiegel of NPR has the story (it’s actually much more interesting than just love – function words can show who in the conversation has more status, power and so on.)