COOK: What are you looking into now? Where do you see the field going in the future?Number one: most college applicants seem to write personal narratives. As far as I can tell.
PENNEBAKER: One of the most fascinating effects I’ve seen in quite awhile is that we can predict people’s college performance reasonably well by simply analyzing their college admissions essays. Across four years, we analyzed the admissions essays of 25,000 students and then tracked their grade point averages (GPAs). Higher GPAs were associated with admission essays that used high rates of nouns and low rates of verbs and pronouns. The effects were surprisingly strong and lasted across all years of college, no matter what the students’ major.
To me, the use of nouns -- especially concrete nouns -- reflects people’s attempts to categorize and name objects, events, and ideas in their worlds. The use of verbs and pronouns typically occur when people tell stories. Universities clearly reward categorizers rather than story tellers. If true, can we train young students to categorize more? Alternatively, are we relying too much on categorization strategies in American education?
The Secret Language Code
Psychologist James Pennebaker reveals the hidden meaning of pronouns
By Gareth Cook
Number two: most college composition textbooks applaud the use of verbs, caution against overuse of nouns, and condemn nominalization (non-nouns turned into nouns) with zeal.
The world is topsy-turvy.