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Dating Success Is Predicted by Language Style

Update Date: Apr 30, 2012 10:43 PM EDT

A good predictor of dating success is how similarly you and your potential partner use function words — words that help tie sentences together such as pronouns, prepositions, articles and so forth.

In an experiment conducted with NPR, James Pennebaker, psychologist at University of Texas at Austin, looked at the function words that people used during speed dating to determine the probability that a couple would end up on a date. And he found that when the language style of two people matched, they were much more likely to hit it off.

"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 told NPR. 

In the early 1990s, Pennebaker and some graduate students developed "Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count," a computer program to detect function words. They then used the program to try to answer questions like "What could you tell about relationships by looking at the way two people spoke to each other?" or "Looking only at a transcript, could you tell from function words whether someone was male or female, rich or poor?"

In the experiment conducted with NPR, Pennebaker fed recorded conversations from the speed dates along with information about how the participants themselves were perceiving the dates. 

The results found that when two people used a language style that matched, they were more likely to hit it off.  

"We can predict by analyzing their language, who will go on a date — who will match — at rates better than the people themselves," Pennebaker told NPR. "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.," he added. 

Pennebaker says the people themselves don't have to be totally similar to go on a date. We subconsciously mimic the way other people speak when we have genuine inerest in them.

"When two people are paying close attention, they use language in the same way," he says. "And it's one of these things that humans do automatically." 

Link to Original Study

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