Sunday, January 31, 2010

One More SOTU Post-Mortem: Watch the Words

A psychology professor friend of ours sent a fascinating linguistic analysis of the State of the Union from the folks at Word Watchers, a blog dedicated to tracking the language of public figures.  Here's the premise:
Over the last several years, multiple studies have found that the analysis of function words can reflect psychological dimensions of speakers.  Laboratory and real world studies indicate that pronouns and other style words predict a speaker’s honesty, social status, emotional state, social connections with others, dominance, and thinking style.  Function words are linked to people’s immediate psychological state within a given context and also can provide a broader view of their personality across situations and time.

SOU addresses are a perfect opportunity to study the psychological features of the nation’s leaders within relatively formal contexts.  Unlike most speeches, SOUs are generally given in the same location, to the same types of dignitaries, at the same time of the year.  Although the speeches themselves have undoubtedly been shaped by others, they continue to reflect the personality and thinking of the president and his staff.
The rest of the piece applies that lens to the post-WWII SOTU, starting with Truman and with special attention to Obama's latest.   More than worth checking out.

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