March 28, 2008

Speaking words of wisdom

Is there any truth to the stereotype that elderly people tend to be grumpier than young people? Do people become more negative and complain more as they grow older? A new book by Dutch psychologist Margriet Sitskoorn pointed me to research by James Pennebaker and Lori Stone. These researchers wondered how the use of language develops when we get older. Do we use more or less negative terms and positive terms as we get older?

Pennebaker and Stone analyzed texts of people at different ages. They counted the use of positive and negative terms. In addition to this they analyzed the extent to which people used future-tense and past-tense verbs at different ages. Did they find that people talk more in negative terms and use more past-tense verbs? On the contrary! This is what they found:

"With increasing age, individuals use more positive and fewer negative affect words, use fewer self references, use more future-tense and fewer past-tense verbs, and demonstrate a general pattern of increasing cognitive complexity."

Reading this, you may think that this is due to the prosperity of our modern times in which older people are better taken care of than in past centuries... but no! Pennebaker and Stone also analyzed texts by authors like Shakespeare, Eliot and Yeats that they had written at different ages.

They found exactly the same conclusions: the older, the more positive and future-oriented. Wow, the older we get, the more solution-focused our language seems to get.... Not bad!

Also read: Milton Erickson

1 comment:

  1. Coert,

    This is interesting. Is it because our thinking gets more complex that we see more possibilities? Or did they offer some other theory for the increase in positive and future-focused language?


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