Monday, October 21, 2013

#294 / Pronouns

As much as I may disagree with the editorial positions of The Wall Street Journal (and I almost always do), The Journal does let me know about things I might otherwise miss. 

For instance, the Tuesday, October 8, 2013 edition alerted me to a relatively new book written by Dr. James W. Pennebaker, Chair of the Psychology Department at the University of Texas at Austin. The book is called The Secret Life of Pronouns, and was reviewed not only in The Wall Street Journal (click here for the reference), but in The New York Times' Sunday Book Review (click here for The Times' review). In essence, the book is based on studies that count the use of various pronouns, including specifically the word "I," by speakers in a variety of different situations, to see if there are any consistent correlations. 

As it turns out (if  you believe Dr. Pennebaker and his system of analysis), a frequent use of  the pronoun "I" appears not to be associated with persons who are confident, have power, and have high-status, as one might suppose. Quite the opposite. High status persons and those in positions of leadership use "I" less frequently than those with lesser status. 

Is there a reason for that? 

One that comes to mind (not validated by the Pennebaker studies) is that persons with leadership responsibilities grasp what others may not: we are not just a series of individuals, a bunch of "I"s. We are in this life together. 

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