We change our personalities depending on who's around us.


You already know this from relationships: You're a different person with your mother than you are with your lover, your kid, your colleague, or your boss. 


Each personal relationship you have pulls, like a magnet, for different sides of who you are.



With this in mind, know that in psychology, we only have a few, rather blunt tests for charting personality.  The tests are like chisels rather than fine scalpels, because they capture you as the "introvert" or the "socialite" without capturing the nuance of your different selves in different social contexts.


For instance, anyone can take the famous NEO Personality Inventory and find out her general personality style. This test is indeed reliable insofar as it does mark your level of shyness or negative emotion, for instance, in contrast to other people around you.  But this test only identifies your long-standing, consistent tendencies in comparison to large groups of your peers.


Today, we're building different tools that would reveal the smaller-scale shifts in personality that happen in various social contexts.  We're building tools to see if some "shy girl" can become the life of the party if she's with people who put her at ease.


For instance, one new method for testing personality looks merely at language: at the words you use with various people in your life.  This might seem odd at first: that the very words you choose in some casual conversation can be a magnifying glass on your personality style.


But it's true.  Research has shown that the words you tend to speak reveal a lot about who you are.  For instance, people who use the first person pronoun "I" more than the norm suffer depression and even commit suicide at higher rates than the norm.  And people who use a high percentage of emotion-based, as opposed to intellectual, words tend to be introverts. 


Psychologists have built various computer programs that analyze language for personality type.  You can actually run someone's written or spoken language through these programs and in turn get a "thumbprint" that identifies a personality style.  For example, these programs can reliably distinguish a speaker as male or female.  They can also tell you if the person is likely to be depressed.  These programs have successfully distinguished between various soldiers through letters they wrote in the 1800s, and they have identified an otherwise-anonymous author behind a book about Bill Clinton. 



Last year, I did a fun study in which I ran letters by authors through one of these computer programs.  For part of it, I ran Virginia Woolf's various letters--to her sister, to her lover, and to one formal acquaintance--through a computer program called LIWC. The notion of personality variation held true: Each stream of dialogue Woolf which wrote registered a radically different personality.  Woolf was essentially a different woman with her sister, her lover, and her formal acquaintance. 


She was more outgoing with one person, goofier with another, more reserved with the last.  The most remarkable thing that I found in this study was the consistency with which Woolf maintained one "personality" with each friend.  Each time she conversed with her sister, she was more emotional than she was with the formal acquaintance.  Think of that: We wear different hats.  And we're good at it.  We are different personalities with different people around us.  Do you find this to be true in your life?

Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 06-10-2009 10:32 PM
by on ‎06-11-2009 03:05 AM

Yes.  And still reading Lee's biography of V. Woolf, I'm finding this to be true with every page I read about V.  I see it in her characters, as well.  She's all of them, and none of them, and a blend of them.  She may have wanted to hide this fact, but she couldn't. 


Even though bits and pieces of our personalities are shown to certain people, no one can really hide who they are...if you know who you're looking for, and put in a room with all of these people, a collection which includes everyone you know...stand back and watch what happens.  See who actually emerges.  It all depends on how honest you are with/ and to yourself. 


I don't think, in VW's day, the way she saw life and wanted to live it, she was able to find it in herself to be that openly honest person she envied.  Rules of order.  Rules ingrained.  Public words are never the same as private words.  And yet, she edited even her private words.

by on ‎06-12-2009 03:11 AM

We are all different people around others.


Myself if you aren't used to me I'll startle you because I don't even sound the same from person to person. My accent and pitch change depending on who I'm talking to. Sometime who I'm even listening to, sit me in in front of British TV for a couple of hours and then talk to me. It's not conscious, one bit. I just shift over.


So I know if my language shifts, my personality probably subtly goes with it.


by on ‎06-12-2009 12:54 PM

TiggerBear, I believe you.  I watch you shift before my very eyes! :smileyhappy:   You say you're not conscious of it.  I wonder why it happens.  I wonder if anyone has any ideas on this subject.


I was thinking about this, as I read over what you say.  I'm pretty conscious of what I say and do around people.  I do listen to myself, for the most part, and weigh the consequences, at least until I get comfortable with that interaction.  I'm not saying my judgement in what I say is always correct, that I know is not the case, but I wonder, when we choose to talk to these differently people, even here on these forums, do we change our demeaner as we get to know that person?


Do we phrase our words differently to be understood more clearly by the people who are in front of us?  To be understood is the key, at least for me.


I know the reception (and perceptions) of people is different, one to the other.  The difference between how they want to see you, fitting you into their own personality comfort level.


Do we frame words around what we know people like to hear, or do we deliberately frame words to throw that  person off balance, so they will slip into our comfort level, keeping them slightly ill at ease?  Staying in control, as it were.  


by on ‎06-12-2009 06:43 PM

Might be genetic, or acquired behavior; my dad was the same. He wasn't conscious of it either, and his would shift languages much more than with me. But as to why? (shrug)


So are you proposing that you're either doing it to comfort your conversation companion or set them on guard for better listening?


I'm thinking there's more to interaction than that. Conversation is as much body language as anything else. And then there's the pheromone reactions to consider too.


Not to mention ever notice how on the phone your language shifts?


But back to the start of this, letters and online conversations. I know for myself I type as close to an aproximation of what I would say and do if it were live and in color(so to speak). But it's common knowlege that not everyone on the web is ever displaying anything close to reality. How much of this alters the way those of us who aren't actively pretending behave?

by Lurker on ‎06-16-2009 05:51 PM

IlanaSimons wrote:


Each personal relationship you have pulls, like a magnet, for different sides of who you are.


Wow, this sentence really struck with me based on a book my 9-year-old daughter and I currently are reading.  We are reading George's Secret Key to the Universe, a children's book written by Stephen Hawking and his daughter Lucy which, through a tale of George and his mysterious neighbors and their extraordinary computer named "Cosmos," teaches kids about our universe.  (My daughter is enjoying the book so much that, instead of reading together only at bedtime as we normally do, she took the book with us on a recent hour-long drive and read aloud from the back seat in both directions.)   In a chapter we just read, we learned about exoplanets, which are planets outside of our solar system that orbit stars other than our sun.  In general, we cannot see exoplanets because, unlike stars, exoplanets do not emit light.  But we know of their existence based on the effect they have on stars; we can detect slight changes in the position of a star based on the gravitational pull of the exoplanets that orbit that star.


So we are all stars with our own exoplanets; the people who orbit around us have different characteristics that exert differing pulls on us.  And just like a star and its planets, these different pulls can be detected by science.  Very cool!

by on ‎06-17-2009 12:41 AM

Or not science.

by Blogger IlanaSimons on ‎06-17-2009 01:09 PM


Thank you for the beautiful analogy. 


"So we are all stars with our own exoplanets; the people who orbit around us have different characteristics that exert differing pulls on us."


I love this line.  And I agree with KathyS: These pulls are detected by science, and by not-science.

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