“How Our Words Reflect Who We Are”

James W. Pennebaker
Liberal Arts Foundation Centennial Professor, Department Chair of the Department of Psychology
The University of Texas at Austin

James Pennebaker

Tuesday, December 6, 2011
5:45 p.m. – Networking Reception
6:30 p.m. – Presentation

Some of the most forgettable words in our vocabulary say the most about who we are. Dr. Pennebaker uses his groundbreaking research in computational linguistics to analyze pronouns, articles, prepositions and a handful of other small function words that account for over half of the words we say, hear, or read. Unlike more content-heavy words such as nouns, adjectives, and regular verbs, function words are difficult to detect and remember.

What makes function words interesting is that they reveal a great deal about our thoughts, emotions, and our relationships with listeners as well as the topic itself. In this talk, Dr. Pennebaker explores the secret life of function words and shows how analyzing them can reveal depression, dishonesty, leadership qualities, and whether you are compatible with the person you are currently interested in.


James W. Pennebaker is the Regents Centennial Professor and the Department Chair of the Department of Psychology at The University of Texas at Austin. His early research focused on how writing about emotional upheavals can improve people’s physical and psychological health.

Dr. Pennebaker’s more recent work examines the links between natural language and psychological state. He has published almost 300 research articles and nine books, including his recently released book, The Secret Life of Pronouns (NY: Bloomsbury Press). Among the most cited researchers in the social sciences, Dr. Pennebaker has an active research lab that is routinely funded by the National Science Foundation as well as federal agencies associated with national security. For more information, see his webpage,