References to an impending breakup may be present in the little words used in everyday months of conversation … [+]
How you use small words in everyday conversations can indicate whether or not you want to break up with your partner, according to a new study.
“It seems that before people even know they are going to break up, they affect their lives,” said lead author Sarah Seraj. “We don’t really notice how often we use prepositions, articles or pronouns, but these functional words are changed in a way when you are in a personal upheaval that can tell us a lot about our emotional and psychological state.”
Seraj and her colleagues at the University of Texas at Austin looked through more than a million posts from 6,800 Reddit users who shared breakup news on r / BreakUps’ subreddit forum.
They looked at their language a year before and a year after the announcement of the breakup and found that the user’s language began to change about three months before the breakup.
In particular, the study notes that in the three months prior to the split, users’ language became more personal and informal, indicating a decline in analytical thinking. Seraj added that she used the words “I” and “we” more frequently, which shows signs of increased cognitive processing.
“These are signs that someone is having severe cognitive burden. They are thinking or working on something and are more focused on themselves,” said Seraj. “Sometimes the use of the word ‘I’ correlates with depression and sadness. When people are depressed, they are more likely to focus on themselves than to relate to others.”
This work builds on other studies that have found similar results regarding language changes and mental health.
For example, a 2010 study found that people with symptoms of depression had significantly more first-person singular pronouns – like “I,” “I” and “I” – and significantly fewer second and third-person pronouns – like “they”, “they” or ” you “.
In addition, research has found that the prevalence of absolutist words – which convey absolute magnitudes or probabilities such as “always”, “nothing”, or “completely” – was greater in anxiety and depression forums and suicidal forums.
And this change in language patterns has been used by companies like Facebook to, for example, detect suicide posts before they’re even reported.
This latest study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the first to examine breakups and their duration using natural language data.
In addition to the signs that emerged three months before the breakup, the study also found that the user’s speech did not return to normal until about six months after the breakup.
Additionally, these changes in speech pattern have been observed not only in the r / BreakUps subreddit but also in other unrelated forums.
While the majority of people returned to normal after six months, there were some who did not return to their normal language even a year after the breakup.
The researchers found that these users tended to linger on the r / BreakUps subreddit for months and keep rehashing their breakup story. According to the researchers, this ruminating may have made healing difficult for them.
The researchers also compared their results with users who were divorced and had other emotional upheavals. They found similar language patterns, although they weren’t as relevant to unrelated upheavals.
“What makes this project so fascinating is that, for the first time through technology, we can see people breaking up in real time,” said study co-author Kate Blackburn.
“The implications for this research are far-reaching. At the most basic level, it gives you, me, and everyday people insight into how loved ones may respond to the end of a romantic relationship over time.”
So, re-read all of your messages with exes to see when everything went wrong, or feverishly analyze the messages of your current partners to see if you’re going to be single soon.