When someone is lying about something, they’re usually unconsciously trying to distance themselves from the situation to make the lie more tolerable to tell. As The Wall Street Journal points out, this means that when people lie they tend to use the word “I” a lot less.
Photo by Carmella Fernando
A lot of people generally avoid using the word “I”, including high-powered people and bosses, but it’s also a pretty good indicator that someone is hiding the truth. The Wall Street Journal explains:
Researchers analysed the language on Twitter of Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Mr. Tsarnaev used “I” words (I, me, my, I’ll, I’m, etc.) less and less in his tweets as he got closer to the bombing, according to not-yet-published research by Brittany Norman at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas, and Dr. Pennebaker.
The researchers analysed all 856 of Mr. Tsarnaev’s original tweets between October 2011 and April 15, 2013, the day of the bombing. They found that Mr. Tsarnaev’s use of “I” words dropped significantly as the bombing approached, with the biggest drop appearing in October 2012 (to 4.81% of his words from 9.57% the month before).
“The data suggest that Mr. Tsarnaev made the decision to do something that he had to hide at that time,” Ms. Norman says.
Of course, the lack of pronoun usage isn’t a definitive way to spot a liar, but it’s something you can add to your lie-spotting toolkit.
The Tiny Pronoun Says a Lot About You [The Wall Street Journal]