March 1, 2017
Kayla N. Jordan and James W. Pennebaker
University of Texas at Austin
After just over a month in office, Donald Trump gave his first address to Congress. The content of Trump’s address was similar to past presidents’ State of the Union (SOTU) addresses with a focus on recent accomplishments and plans for the upcoming year. But what about the style of the speech?
Unlike his inaugural address which was linguistically similar to Trump’s typical language, his recent address was more analytic and less authentic than normal. Similar to his RNC acceptance speech, Trump’s first SOTU was heavily shaped by a speechwriter. Although the content of the address overlapped considerably with Steve Bannon’s recurring themes of fear of outsiders, the linguistic markers were quite similar to the language of Stephen Miller in a recent interview on Face the Nation. Despite Miller’s probable role in the address, Trump’s latest speech is useful in understanding overall trends in the presidency and where Trump fits in.
Decline in Analytic Thinking
Similar to trends in inaugural addresses, SOTU speeches are generally highly analytic and formal, but have been becoming less so over time. Starting with Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt, modern presidents have adopted a more informal, narrative style in their annual addresses to Congress. Trump’s first address continued this trend with his level of analytic thinking on par with the last 5 presidents.
The decline in analytic thinking signals a shift in how presidents are thinking about problems and presenting their ideas. Trump, like other recent presidents, laid out his ideas in a simpler, more straightforward way than past presidents. Going forward, Trump will likely rely more and more on offering simple, intuitive solutions and ideas to the problems he faces.
Rise in Confidence
The language presidents use can show how confident and self-certain they are as leaders. Confidence or clout is indicated by more we-words and social words and fewer I-words, negations (e.g. no, not), and swear words.
Whereas analytic thinking has decreased over the last century, clout has increased. Around the same time presidents began becoming less analytic, they also started to exude more confidence. Presidents have increasingly approached these addresses to Congress with confidence and certainty. Trump is the most confident so far, but is still similar to recent presidents. Trump and other modern presidents are decisive and confident in their plans and proposals.
The Big Picture
In their SOTU addresses, presidents have been becoming more confident and less analytic. These trends show that presidents are changing how they are thinking and interacting with lawmakers and the American people. Administration after administration, the yearly SOTU addresses are laying out simpler and less nuanced world views with bolder more decisive proposals. Faced with complex, hard-to-solve problems, clear and easy solutions are likely more appealing to present to an increasingly polarized Congress (and electorate).
While Trump is often seen as a significant departure from presidential norms, in many ways, he isn’t all that different than other modern presidents. Rather than being an extreme outlier, Trump is part of long-term trends. He is a more confident, intuitive thinker, but Obama and Bush were as well. The content of what Trump is saying may be abnormal, but the style is typical of recent presidents.
January 21, 2017
Kayla N. Jordan and James W. Pennebaker
University of Texas at Austin
After an unconventional campaign, Trump gave an equally unique inaugural address. In keeping with his populist connection with the voters, Trump spoke in a direct, nuance-free style against the Washington elites and promising to “Make America Great Again.”
Unlike his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention which was clearly not written by him, Trump (or a speechwriter with a good grasp of Trump’s language style) was the primary author of his inaugural address. Linguistically, it was quite similar to the ways he spoke in his stump speeches, interviews, and debates. Consequently, the conclusions we have reached about his personality and thinking styles in the past are only reinforced after his ascension to the presidency.
Trump is Intuitive and not at all Analytical
In their inaugural addresses, presidents tend to show an analytic thinking style. They generally lay out their ideas in a formal, logical manner. Beginning with Teddy Roosevelt, modern presidents have adopted increasingly informal and narrative styles than their predecessors. Trump, however, has broken new ground in simple and intuitive thinking. As depicted in the graph below, no American president has been so low in analytic thinking.
Consistent with all of his debates, Trump is not capable of more logical and hierarchical thinking. He has rarely made an if-then statement. As evidenced through his tweeting, he is a fast decision maker driven by intuition and hunches. Because of this, scholars must pay particularly close attention to the values that are guiding him — nationalism, isolationism, wealth, security, hard work, and deal-making. When confronted with a difficult decision, he will likely be guided by advisors or the core values that are salient to him at the moment.
Trump is Authentic
Several studies have identified a set of word categories that are associated with people telling the truth. For example, I-words (e.g., I, me, my) often signal that the person is speaking from the heart. Interestingly, when we listen to a person who uses authenticity language, we are more likely to believe them. They come across as more personal and understanding.
From the first debate over 18 months ago, Trump has consistently used words associated with authenticity at very high rates. Indeed, this is his appeal. He shoots from the hip and many people feel he is talking directly to them. Presidents have differed widely in the authenticity of their inaugural addresses. Presidents such as Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, surprisingly, gave straightforward addresses clearly laying out their thoughts. Other presidents such as Eisenhower and Truman were more distant and impersonal in their speeches. As shown in the figure below, Trump rivals George “I cannot tell a lie” Washington in his use of authentic language.
Warning: Authentic language does not always mean honest or truthful. LBJ and Nixon may have spoken in authentic ways in their inaugural addresses but history has judged both men as wily and devious in their attempts to get legislation passed. Trump has a long history of making up often-outlandish facts and talking about them with complete sincerity. His language suggests that he actually believes them. In fact, evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers has done a beautiful analysis of deception arguing that the most deceptive people (and other animals) are successful because they are self-deceptive.
Trump, then, may be objectively deceptive but his language reveals that he is generally an authentic individual. He says what he believes without trying to be evasive. He is quick to respond with his open and honest opinion be it during a press conference or on Twitter. For Trump, there is no hiding behind rhetoric.
The Big Picture
Trump’s inaugural address reflects his unorthodox campaign and likely signals the beginning of a different approach to the presidency. Trump continues to buck conventions and differentiate himself from the prototypical politician. His language in the campaign was a stunning departure from the political norms. It is unsurprising that his first speech as president veered so far from the norms.
The language in Trump’s inaugural address matches his language from the election debates suggesting how he approached the campaign is likely to be how he approaches the presidency. Trump likely won’t change his style to appease critics or garner support; he simply is who he is: a straightforward individual who speaks his mind and relies on his gut instincts. Given this remarkable consistency of Trump’s language, the president will likely continue to be an unique political figure.
Ho, S. M., Hancock, J. T., Booth, C., Liu, X., Timmarajus, S. S., & Burmester, M. (2015, May). Liar, Liar, IM on Fire: Deceptive language-action cues in spontaneous online communication. In Intelligence and Security Informatics (ISI), 2015 IEEE International Conference on (pp. 157-159). IEEE.
Newman, M. L., Pennebaker, J. W., Berry, D. S., & Richards, J. M. (2003). Lying words: Predicting deception from linguistic styles. Personality and social psychology bulletin, 29(5), 665-675.
Pennebaker, J. W. “The secret life of pronouns: How our words reflect who we are.” New York: Bloomsbury (2011).
Pennebaker, J. W., Chung, C. K., Frazee, J., Lavergne, G. M., & Beaver, D. I. (2014). When small words foretell academic success: The case of college admissions essays. PloS one, 9(12), e115844.
Trivers, Robert. The folly of fools: The logic of deceit and self-deception in human life. Basic Books, 2011.
September 27, 2016
Kayla N. Jordan and James W. Pennebaker
University of Texas at Austin
This week Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump met on the debate stage for the first time. In looking at their language so far, we have found the candidates to be remarkably consistent with their earlier primary debates in their language styles. Throughout their campaigns both candidates have faced numerous challenges to their temperaments and their honesty. Given the perceptions of their weaknesses, the candidates may have tried to change how they approached the debate their first presidential debate. We examine two ways the candidates may have changed: (1) are they more analytic or more narrative and (2) are they more authentic or more distant?
As we have discussed in previous posts, people differ in the ways they think. Some people think in a formal, logical manner indicated by the greater use of nouns, articles, and prepositions. Others rely more on stories and narrative communicating in an informal manner using more pronouns, auxiliary verbs (e.g. is, have, was), and common adverbs (e.g. really, so, very).
During the primary debates, Clinton spoke using a formal, analytic style. She focused on her policy proposals and issues and laid them out in a logical fashion. Trump had a shoot-from-the-hip, informal way of speaking using stories and anecdotes to explain his thinking. Have their thinking styles changed? In Trump’s case, no. As you can see in the graph below, his numbers are virtually identical. Trump remains very much a narrative, intuitive thinker. Clinton, on the other hand, was more narrative than normal at this debate getting closer to Trump’s thinking style. Given her opponent and some of the criticisms she has faced, Clinton may have tried to be more personable and less formal to better appeal to voters.
The words people use also reflect how authentic or personal they sound. People who are authentic tend to use more I-words (e.g. I, me, mine), present-tense verbs, and relativity words (e.g. near, new) and fewer she-he words (e.g. his, her) and discrepancies (e.g. should, could).
In the primary debates, both Trump and Clinton came across as relatively authentic and personal though Clinton was a bit more distant. Have the candidates changed? Once again, Trump has changed very little since the primaries. He is still speaking his mind in straight-forward, authentic way. Clinton, however, has changed rather dramatically. After a few recent scandals, it is perhaps somewhat unsurprising that Clinton has become more distant and inauthentic.
The Big Picture
As Clinton said in the debate, “words matter.” Indeed, the words people use reveal important facets about them. So what does the debate language of Clinton and Trump say about them?
Clinton. Clinton’s language has changed the most from the primary debates. She went from being analytic to more narrative and from relatively authentic to rather distant. By all accounts, she spent quite a bit of time preparing for the debate to change the way she speaks to address criticisms she has faced. Her drop in authenticity could be a result of consciously altering how she normally speaks. Her drop in authenticity may also give people a sense of her being more authoritative. Given the way she has been criticized for not being open (despite often being more accurate than Trump according to fact checkers like CNN and PoliFact), shifting back to her more honest style might be in order.
Trump. When not reading from a script, Donald Trump is remarkably consistent. Trump says what he thinks and believes in what he says. Unlike Clinton, Trump did not seem to spend much time preparing for the debate. For better or worse, Trump is who he is and may not change to court new voters or change people’s perceptions.
Kayla N. Jordan and James W. Pennebaker
Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin
People differ in the ways they think. When approaching an issue such as immigration, some analyze the problem logically, relying on facts and theories. Others draw on their personal experiences and stories they have heard. Presidential candidates are no different. By identifying how the current round of presidential hopefuls think, we can predict how they will go about making decisions if they are elected.
One way to identify thinking styles is to use computer-based text analysis methods to analyze everyday language. Based on earlier research, we have found that analytical thinking is revealed though the high use of nouns, articles, and prepositions. The use of these parts of speech indicates that the speaker is identifying conceptual categories and organizing them in hierarchical ways. At the opposite end of the spectrum are people who are more narrative or dynamic thinkers. Narrative thinking is linked to low use of nouns, articles, and prepositions and high use of pronouns (such as I, she, they, it), auxiliary verbs (is, have), common adverbs (so, really), and related small common words called function words. Interestingly, the more a person is an analytical thinker, the less he or she is a narrative thinker and vice versa.
Across multiple studies, analytic thinking has been linked related to intelligence (as measured by standardized tests such as the SAT), better performance in classes across the college curriculum, and better education in high school. Analytic thinking is also more common among leaders, older (as opposed to younger) age, and people with better health habits. Narrative thinking is more common among younger, more impulsive, and sociable people. Whereas analytical thinkers like to break down and analyze a problem, narrative thinkers prefer to relay their own experiences and tell stories to understand the problem. Analytical thinkers weigh more facts; narrative thinks rely more on intuition and snap judgement. Using Daniel Kahneman’s language, analytic thinkers would think slow and the narrative thinkers would think fast.
Across this season’s debates, we have been analyzing analytic/narrative thinking to identify how each candidate naturally thinks about the world. As the Iowa caucus grows closer, it is revealing to see how the candidates from both parties are adjusting their thinking to appeal to their audiences.
Before looking at the individual candidates, it is interesting to see how the thinking styles within the Republican and Democratic debates have differed. Note that numbers above 50 are generally considered to reflect more analytical and logical thinking. Numbers below 50 are tend to be more narrative, personal, and immediate.
Overall, the Democratic debates are associated with more formal and logical thinking than the Republican debates. More interesting are the trends. Whereas the Democrats are becoming more logical and formal over time, the Republicans are becoming less formal and more narrative and personal.
Why? Very likely the two groups are becoming increasingly familiar with their base — especially in Iowa and New Hampshire. When the Democratic candidates show up to a town hall, a disproportionate number of their supporters know the issues, listen to NPR, and expect reasoned answers. The Republican candidates are trying to appeal to Tea Party supporters who rely more on Fox News and Rush Limbaugh for information. For many, hard data is less persuasive than compelling stories.
Another explanation can be attributed to a phenomenon called language style matching. Social psychologists have long known that people naturally mimic one another in the ways they behave, use nonverbal behaviors, and the ways they talk. Daniel Romero and his colleagues find that people who match others in a debate or negotiation are seen more positively than those whose speaking styles are unrelated to others. Other studies suggest that lower status people tend to mimic people with higher status — often unconsciously. Among the candidates, one might expect that the frontrunners would set the linguistic tone and that the followers would match them. As depicted in the graphs below, the patterns support the language style matching and status predictions — especially for the Republicans (the Democratic candidates are strikingly similar across all the debates).
So how do the Republicans compare to each other and how have they changed as individual candidates? As the graph below demonstrates, the candidates’ thinking styles relative to each other have remained largely the same. Although the Republicans overall have become more informal across debates, there are some interesting differences between the candidates worth noting.
- Donald Trump has become more and more informal since the second debate in September. While Trump started the debates similar to fellow candidate, Ben Carson, his language has drifted further and further away from the other candidates as the debates have progressed. Trump remains an intuitive rather than an analytical thinker far more than his fellow candidates. Research suggest that someone with this type of narrative thinking style may be more impulsive when making decisions.
- Ben Carson hasn’t changed much over time. Since the first debate, Carson had been relatively informal and narrative focused. Carson is concerned with his political story without thinking too much about the logic or rationale behind his ideas. Carson’s language style has become somewhat more like Trump’s (whose top spot in the polls likely gives him the more status) over the across the debates. Also like Trump, his thinking style may be associated with more rash decision making.
- Marco Rubio is in the middle of the pack suggesting he is relying on both analytical and narrative thinking. While Rubio is working on his political narrative, he also is looking at the rationale behind it. Rubio’s thinking style has remained relatively stable across debates suggesting he may not perceive any of the other candidates as necessarily having higher status.
- Jeb Bush is quite similar to Rubio though Bush falls more on the analytical side. Bush tends to focus on the logic behind his plans. Like Rubio and Carson, Bush’s linguistic style has been mostly consistent through the debates.
- Ted Cruz has become less analytic in the debates since September, but he is still the most logical thinkers on the Republican side. His analytic language reveals a deliberative, though not necessarily better, decision making style. As Cruz has climbed in the polls, his thinking style is getting more in line with the other Republican frontrunners. At first, Cruz stood apart from the others but over time has become more similar to them.
What about the Democrats? Both Democratic candidates are more analytic thinkers. Throughout the debates, their thinking styles have been similar suggesting they are on the same page and approach problems similarly with only minor differences across the debates.
- Bernie Sanders is an analytic thinker and has been relatively consistent across debates with only small increases since the first debate. Sanders is focused on his plans for the future and on the logic behind those plans.
- Hillary Clinton has become more analytic since the first debate catching up to Sanders in the last debate. In the first debates, Clinton had more balance between logical and informal thinking, but as the race has become slightly more competitive, she has become slightly more analytic.
The current analyses suggest that both parties may be modifying their strategies to better appeal to the voters in the upcoming caucuses. Within the Republican party, the race has changed substantially since the first debate with all the frontrunners gaining or losing ground. In order to gain or regain support, candidates may have needed to change their approaches. Cruz and Trump have changed thinking styles the most and are the current leaders in most polls suggesting they may be the most responsive to these changes in circumstances. Rubio, Bush, and Carson, on the other hand, have changed less indicating that they might be less flexible and responsive to changing circumstances. Within the Democratic party, while Sanders has gained some ground, the race has not changed substantially. The mostly stable competition could indicate that neither candidate have felt compelled to really change the way they are approaching their campaigns.
After the Iowa Caucus, the candidates have six more opportunities to face each other in debates. We will continue to examine how these candidates compare to each other and how they may approach the presidency as voters begin deciding which two candidates will battle for that office.
Ireland, M. E., & Pennebaker, J. W. (2010). Language style matching in writing: Synchrony in essays, correspondence, and poetry. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,99(3), 549-571. doi:10.1037/a0020386
Niederhoffer, K. G., & Pennebaker, J. W. (2002). Linguistic style matching in social interaction. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 21(4), 337-360. doi:10.1177/026192702237953
Romero, D. M., Swaab, R. I., Uzzi, B., & Galinsky, A. D. (2015). Mimicry is presidential: Linguistic style matching in presidential debates and improved polling numbers. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 41(10), 1311-1319. doi:10.1177/0146167215591168
Through Their Words: Hillary, Bernie, and their Republican Friends — Text analysis of the first Democratic Debate
October 14, 2015
by James W. Pennebaker and Kayla N. Jordan
Department of Psychology, The University of Texas at Austin
Computer analyses of the language of the candidates in the most recent debate reveal some basic personality and psychological differences. The primary comparisons are between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders as well as the ways they differed from the most likely Republican nominees: Bush, Fiorina, Rubio, and Trump. The main findings include:
- Clinton is much more positive in emotional tone than Sanders. Her levels of positivity are comparable to the most positive Republican, Jeb Bush.
- Sanders is somewhat more of an analytical, formal thinker than Clinton. All the candidates, however, are reasonably similar with the exception of Donald Trump — who appears incapable of thinking in a formal, logical way.
- Sanders and Clinton use language that comes across as authentic and honest in ways similar to Trump. Fiorino, Bush, and Rubio are significantly lower than the others in authenticity.
- Sanders’ language suggests greater clout and more power-awareness than Clinton’s language.
- The male candidates across parties tend to use male-centric language at high rates with Sanders and Rubio being the most male-centric. For the female candidates, Clinton is balanced in her gender references while Fiorino uses slightly female-centric language.
This is the first of several brief blog posts about the 2016 election. Our plan is to use some sophisticated computer-based text analysis methods to get a better sense of the social and psychological dimensions of the candidates. No platforms or positions discussed here. Just people’s basic thinking, emotional, and interpersonal styles.
The basic system we rely on will be a computer program developed in our lab, Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count, or LIWC (pronounced “Luke”, and available for research purposes at www.liwc.net, or for commercial purposes through www.Receptiviti.com). LIWC analyzes any kind of text and calculates the percentage of words that are emotional, cognitive, and another 80 or so dimensions. There are now hundreds of studies in political science, business, psychology, and other disciplines that have used it. For a brief summary of articles, check this link or this one. The more recent version of the program, LIWC2015, has just been released and has a number of dimensions particularly well-suited to political campaigns.
OK, let’s get serious. There are only two viable candidates for president in the Democratic race right now — Clinton and Sanders. O’Malley made a credible showing but until his ratings reach double digits, we’ll stick with the front runners. Biden may join the team eventually but let’s put him aside since he was a no-show for the October 13th debate.
Although LIWC can analyze a mind-boggling number of dimensions, we will focus on only a handful: emotional tone, thinking style, authenticity, power and clout, and sexism (relative referencing of males to females).
Historically, the American electorate has preferred more upbeat and optimistic candidates to more negative or hostile candidates. The simplest way to measure emotional tone is simply to calculate the total number of words that have a positive connotation (such as happy, success, good) or a negative one (anger, death, hurt). Across the board, Clinton was far more optimistic and upbeat than Sanders.
It’s also interesting to compare the emotional states of Clinton and Sanders to the most likely candidates on the Republican side — Bush, Rubio, Fiorina, and Trump (sorry to those of you who are rooting for Cruz or Ben Carson or one of the others — it’s not gonna happen). As you can see in the graph, Clinton’s emotional state is similar to Jeb Bush, Rubio, and Trump. Sanders and Fiorina are both impressively low.
Note that the Emotional tone index is a weighted score that ranges between 0 (very negative) and 100 (very positive).
The words people use in everyday language can reveal their natural thinking style. There are at least two ways to capture thinking styles that are related to the debates. The first measures people’s natural ways of trying to understand, analyze, and organize complex events. We have devised a metric called the categorical-dynamic index, or the CDI. A high score on the CDI is associated with analytical, formal, and logical thinking. A low score is often associated with more narrative thinking where the speaker is in the here-and-now. The CDI has been found to be related to college grades, measures of intelligence, and various markers of academic success.
The second measure, which we call Cognitive Processing, reflects the extent that people are trying to work out a problem in their minds. For example, if you were asked to describe the most efficient way to get from your home to the City Hall in a particular town about 100 miles away, you would likely use words such as think, believe, realize, know, and other cognitive processing words. However, if you knew precisely how to get there because you had driven that route dozens of times, you would not use cognitive processing words. In other words, if you are still trying to figure out a problem, you use cognitive processing terms; if you are certain that you know “the answer”, you don’t use these words.
In terms of raw intelligence and the ability to think analytically, Sanders scores slightly higher than Clinton. In fact, most of the likely Republican nominees are in the same range. The one who scores far, far below the rest is Donald Trump. Trump shoots from the hip and is guided by his intuition. He is not a logical or analytical thinker.
Of all the candidates, Hillary Clinton scores highest on cognitive processing — meaning she is someone who continues to work through issues as they come up. Bernie Sanders, however, is the lowest of all the candidates. This suggests that he has already thought through his positions and is most entrenched in his beliefs in that he is no longer thinking about them as much as the others.
Over the years, multiple labs have developed algorithms that tap the degree to which people are personal, honest, and authentic. The authenticity measure is made up of words such as I-words (I, me, my), present tense verbs, and other dimensions previously associated with telling the truth. While the Democrats are quite similar to each other in terms of authenticity, they are strikingly higher than the Republican candidates with the exception Trump.
Clout and Power-Awareness
There are at least two ways to think about power, status, and clout. The first, which we call clout, is the kind of power that is seen in a strong leader. A person with clout speaks with confidence and a sense of certainty. People who have clout tend to use we- and social words more and I-words, negations, and swear words less. Overall, Sanders uses language that suggests more clout than Clinton. Although Fiorina was far higher than Sanders in the last Republican debate and Trump was somewhat lower than Clinton.
The second measure of status is power awareness. That is, to what degree are people aware of people with more or less power than they have? When you walk into a room, to what degree do you notice the relative status of others? The power-awareness measure captures the degree to which people use words such as command, boss, and defeat. As depicted in the table, Sanders is much more power-aware than Clinton and is at the same level as the most power-aware Republican Marco Rubio. It’s interesting that Trump is by far the least power-aware of all the candidates. In his mind, he already has the most power and there is no reason for him to have to size up other people along this dimension
Male-Centric Language (A marker of sexism, perhaps?)
The ways people use words tell us where they are paying attention. If a speaker uses a high rate of words such as women, females, she and her, and relatively few references to males, the speaker is simply thinking and talking about women more. Is this sexist language? Maybe, maybe not. Does this speaker always make more references to women than men? If so, the person certainly isn’t paying much attention to people of the male persuasion.
By analysing references to females and males, we can get a sense of candidates’ natural orientations to women and men. We aren’t warranting that this is a measure of overt sexism but it may be a subtle or implicit signal of gender bias.
Check out the graph. The numbers refer to the percentage of all gender references that are male. Numbers above 50% suggest a male bias; numbers below 50% hint at a female bias. Overall, Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina use gendered language very differently than the male candidates. Clinton referred to males and females at similar levels; Fiorina made more references to women than men — partly based on the questions she was asked in the last debate. The men, however, were far more gendered in their language than the women. It wasn’t even close. The two who were most male-centric were Sanders and Rubio.
In the Future