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What pronouns say about our personality

August 22, 2011

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The way in which we use pronouns such as I, you, or him - or choose not to use them - reveals quite a bit about our personalities but not necessarily in the ways we might think. That’s the premise of a new book, “The Secret Life of Pronouns,’’ by psychologist James Pennebaker, which hits bookstores on Aug. 30 and draws some surprising conclusions.

Favoring the word “I’’ in sentences, for example, doesn’t mean a person is a narcissist but rather reflects self awareness and self monitoring. “Women use I at much higher rates than men,’’ said Pennebaker who chairs the psychology department at the University of Texas at Austin and has conducted research on the use of pronouns in language. “Women probably pay more attention to their body and emotions and are more likely to pop in an I to personalize what they’re saying.’’

President Obama, on the other hand, uses the pronoun I less than other presidents when speaking off-the-cuff to reporters, which Pennebaker said reflects his self confidence - and his sense of emotional detachment. “Compared to other presidents like Bush and Clinton, he uses active verbs at high rates and pronouns at low rates during his press conferences,’’ said Pennebaker.

Obama would rather put a situation, like the economic crisis, into a rich historical context than put it in terms of what he personally thinks about the recession and how to solve it. “He just doesn’t connect well with people when he’s not giving a scripted speech’’ he said, “because of this detachment.’’

On the other hand, politicians who preface their ideas with “I think we should. . .’’ often are looking to hedge their bets, leaving open the possibility that what they think could be completely misguided.

What about the collective “we’’ that I often catch myself using in my conversations?

“It’s a fascinating word,’’ Pennebaker told me. “It can be a warm, nurturing we, or it can be used to distance yourself where you don’t want to own what you’re saying.’’

In warning Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke against committing a “treasonous’’ act if he tried to boost the economy by printing more money, Republican presidential candidate and Texas governor Rick Perry told Iowan voters this week, “I don’t know what you all would do to him in Iowa, but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas.’’ (The we being, not him necessarily, but his fellow Texans.)

Of course, as Pennebaker pointed out, pronouns - or lack thereof - can be used to assign blame for wrongdoing from taking responsibility by saying “I made a mistake’’ to the less culpable “we made a mistake’’ to the blameless “mistakes were made.’’

Through his research, he also found that happy couples tend to mimic each other’s style of pronoun use. Married poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning had matching writing styles, Pennebaker said, as did Slyvia Plath and her husband Ted Hughes at least until their marriage hit the rocks.

He also found that the level of matching pronoun usage displayed in instant messages sent back and forth between 86 college freshmen couples could predict whether they would be together three months later. “We could actually track how much a couple was in sync with each other by their use of certain words,’’ he said, “when they were close, and when they were falling apart.’’

DEBORAH KOTZ

AguaCaliente wrote : One thing’s for sure. Any funds I come home with are “our’’ money, while my wife’s income is “hers.’’ You can take that to the bank.

gold279 wrote: Rather than psychoanalyze people’s use of pronouns, I’d like to get more people to use pronouns correctly.

Wrong: “He gave a gift to my wife and I.’’

Right: “He gave a gift to my wife and me.’’

chloe2006 wrote: My soon-to-be-ex always used the “blameless’’ passive or the third person pronoun to describe our issues, never using “I’’ for example, “it just gets more distant’’ meaning our marriage. He also always referred to me as “the’’ wife (for me) and “the’’ family (for us and our children), as if we had nothing to do with him.

Rethinking baby's birth weight

What’s my newborn baby’s weight? Mothers want to know because it’s a detail worth sharing with close friends and family. Doctors want to know because it has always been considered a cause for concern if a baby drops too far below its birth weight. But a new study by researchers at the University of Ottawa School of Nursing suggests that the factors behind a baby’s birth weight are more complicated than we might think.

The researchers recorded the amount of oral and IV fluids mothers were receiving while in labor or before a C-section, and had parents weigh their babies every 12 hours in the weeks after delivery. They found that the more fluids moms got in the two hours before delivery, the more weight their baby lost post-partum.

“Intuitively, clinicians and parents want to see the neonate return to birth weight,’’ write the authors in this month’s issue of the International Breastfeeding Journal. But, “if it is inflated, then the expectations for a return to birth weight in the first days are questionable.’’

Instead of using birth weight as a baseline, the authors suggest, use the weight of the baby when it’s one day old. That gives the baby’s weight time to stabilize. NEENA SANTIJA

shiplore wrote : Thanks for this; our baby’s weight dropped about 12 percent in the 24 hours after birth and the hospital scolded us for not feeding him enough. My wife had been on fluids for over 48 hours [before birth], and this would have been very reassuring to know.

A big payoff from a little exercise

While federal health officials say we should aim for 150 minutes a week of moderate activity to reap health benefits, a new study suggests we can get far less - just 15 minutes a day on most days totaling 92 minutes a week - to add a few years to our lives. The finding published online last week in the British journal Lancet may lead some avid exercisers to think they should cut back on those hourlong runs.

That, of course, is the wrong approach to take, said Dr. I-Min Lee, an associate epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She published a study last year showing that American women needed to work out at least 60 minutes a day to maintain their weight over the decades.

Lee said the Lancet study - which examined the fitness habits of more than 400,000 Taiwanese residents - adds to the growing body of research that indicates a little activity is better than none but that the more activity you get, the better. The researchers found that women who exercised moderately for as little as 15 minutes a day added three years to their lives while men added about 2.5 years compared to those who didn’t exercise at all.

Moderate activity was equivalent to a brisk walk or other steady exercise that would allow you to carry on a conversation but not sing, explained Lee. “A stroll in the mall doesn’t count.’’ D.K.

lgmoney wrote : Something is better than nothing. Everyone is different, do what you can, but if you are tied to a desk 8-plus hours a day, [take] at least an hour a day to get [your] heart rate up, and eat well.

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