Can Tweets Predict Personality Traits and Emotional States?

The words we think are most innocuous could be indicators of what we think and believe — but they can also be cathartic.

How we communicate — specifically the words we use — can speak volumes about our personalities, values, and how we interact with the world. Now, there’s a tool that analyzes your Twitter activity to identify your emotional, social, and thinking styles.

Analyze Words was developed by James W. Pennebaker, Professor of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin, and focuses on the junk words we depend on in our language. These so-called junk words include pronouns (I, you, they), articles (a, an, the), prepositions (to, with, for) and other small words that hold together the nouns and regular verbs.

For instance, according to Analyze Word, using “I” can indicate introspection. However, overuse can become a sign of depression, stress and insecurity:

Other junk words can signal arrogance, social closeness, deception, leadership and a wide range of other psychological states. Because our research team has already collected tremendous amounts of language and psychological data, we have a fairly good idea of which words best tap psychological processes.

The Daily Mail analyzed the tweets of President Obama and Katy Perry. According to the tool, Obama is upbeat, distant and analytical, while Katy Perry is depressed and sensory driven.

Personable people use positive emotional words, pose questions and reference others frequently, while those who are ‘arrogant or distant’ tend to be well-read with ‘an arms-length approach to socialising.’

According to the New Yorker, social media is ripe for this kind of language analysis, since the language of individuals is available everywhere online. However, the challenge is establishing causality. In fact, Pennbaker cautioned New Yorker contributor Maria Konnikova against drawing such conclusions.

Instead, he pointed to the idea that journaling can be cathartic — people who journal recover from negative experiences quickly. This positive effect was even more true for bloggers who posted personal content open to comments.

In the end Konnikova wrote:

Researchers want to use social media to learn about you. But by writing in a public space you may also be learning about —and helping—yourself.

Readers: What did Analyze Words say about your Twitter activity?