Psychologists from Florida Atlantic University have aggregated 25 years of language in order to chart the development of the personal ego using social media as their primary source. Four thousand text samples were analyzed in an effort to measure just how self-centered people are throughout the course of their adult lives.
Researchers found that as people get older they tend to use less self-centered words such as “I,” replacing them instead with more complex terms such as “but” and “although.” Using the Washington University Sentence Completion Test—one of the most common ways to deduce someone’s psychology and the development of moral, social and cognitive awareness—the test revealed that younger people tend to be more impulsive, using terms associated with gratification, and are obsessed with self-image and fitting-in. Shocker, right? Conversely, as people age they become more informal and impulsive with their choice of words using more leisurely terms, curse words and sexual references.
So what does this mean? In essence, it’s about how the everyday reams of language we create about ourselves could be essential to psychologists. The internet is creating an unparalleled wealth of resources for researchers to dig through to try and surface our inner psyches. The report’s lead author wrote that the research is a huge step towards using the web’s endless content to study how morality develops in people and society. “If ego development can be scored from everyday language,” said Kevin Lanning. “Then the content of text from Twitter feeds to political speeches, and from children’s stories to strategic plans, may provide new insights into our state of moral, social and cognitive development.”