People make impressions of others using the limited information available such verbal cues or communication patterns. New research published in Social Psychological and Personality Science found that high verbal authenticity is associated with positive interpersonal impressions, increased social engagement, and more entrepreneurial success.
Hearing how somebody communicates can influence impressions people make of their intelligence, competence, and warmth. Research shows that perceived authenticity is also important for the impressions people make of the communicator.
“We were interested in identifying specific language dimensions that can transmit authenticity cues and lead to positive behavioral outcomes because most studies evaluate the self-reported effects of perceiving a target as authentic or not,” said study author David Markowitz (@davidmmarkowitz), an assistant professor at the University of Oregon.
“Therefore, we were interested in making important theoretical contributions to psychology of language research and authenticity research by investigating how language patterns of authenticity link to behavior. Indeed, we found evidence that across different settings, language can act as a vehicle to transmit authenticity cues to others in short, first impressions.”
For their first study, the researchers recruited 588 individuals from CloudResearch, an online research platform, and paired each with another participant (total of 294 pairs) on Chatplat.com, an online instant messaging platform. Participants were instructed to chat with their partner about something that they would change about themselves. Each pair chatted for 7 to 10 minutes. Afterward, participants rated each other for how much they liked their chat partner, how much they connected to them, how close they felt to them, and how much they would like to talk to them again in the future.
Using linguistic analysis software known as Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC), Markowitz and his colleagues analyzed the language in participants’ responses for verbal authenticity.
“The LIWC authenticity index is a composite score of language variables (Jordan et al., 2018), derived from empirical studies, and reflects honest, unfiltered, and spontaneous speech. Dimensions that positively load onto the authenticity index include self references (e.g., I), insight words (e.g., aware), differentiation words (e.g., but), and relativity terms (e.g., above),” the researchers explained. “Dimensions that negatively load onto the authenticity index include Results discrepancies from reality (e.g., must) and third-person singular pronouns (e.g., she).”
Results showed that verbal authenticity was associated with liking and interpersonal connection with the conversation partner. Verbal authenticity was not related to desire to talk in the future and interpersonal closeness.
Researchers followed up on these results in Study 2 by assessing how verbal authenticity in TED talk speakers is related to viewer impressions and online impact. Transcripts were collected from 2,655 TED talks occurring from June 2006 to March 2018. These transcripts were then analyzed for authenticity using the same linguistic analyses from Study 1. Researchers also collected data on the online impact of these talks (i.e., number of views and comments).
Results show that TED talks with higher verbal authenticity had more online impact than those with lower verbal authenticity. However, the researchers point out an important limitation to this finding: having more views and comments does not necessarily mean a more positive reception. It is hard to know whether any video received more views or comments due to negative perceptions of the TED talk speaker.
To address this limitation, researchers used a stronger measure of the impact of authenticity for Study 3. They used 478 pitches from the television show, Shark Tank, and transcribed and coded them for verbal authenticity to assess its impact on whether investors make an offer.
In addition to the linguistic analyses used the previous two studies, two independent coders watched the entire set of videos and gave overall impressions of the pitchers (e.g., authenticity, sincerity, competence). The researchers also created their own language-based measure of verbal authenticity. “To create an automated generalization of authenticity cues from the human coding process, we conducted a series of Natural Language Processing (NLP) procedures, creating a final authenticity estimator specific to the Shark Tank corpus,” the researchers elaborated.
Verbal authenticity was related to investment outcome. Specifically, higher verbal authenticity was associated with a greater likelihood of receiving an investment. Similarly, pitchers who received an investment were rated more positively by the human coders. The linguistic analysis of verbal authenticity and the human coder impressions of authenticity were also positively associated with each other.
Results from the custom measure of authenticity showed similar patterns. “Politeness and language reflecting compliments (e.g., thank you) tended to relate positively to authenticity,” wrote the researchers. “Pitchers who used many financial terms or inflated their self-presentation (e.g., the CEO of their company, seeking an investment) tended to be perceived as less authentic. It could be that pitchers who used these terms were viewed as using canned entrepreneurial language that appears to be less genuine, and more rehearsed or conceited.”
In their fourth and final study, the researchers wanted to test the effects of verbal authenticity on social engagement in a text-based context to eliminate any non-verbal cues that could have influenced results from the previous studies. To do this, they collected tweets from 53 Republican political figures, 15 journalists, and 3 news sources and analyzed them for authenticity. Social engagement was measured by number of likes and retweets. Higher tweet authenticity was associated with more social engagements, but only for political tweets. This effect was not shown for the journalist or news source tweets.
“We hope this work suggests language patterns, particularly style words (e.g., I, me, my) that are small in size but used pervasively in English, can link to how people make judgments and decisions about others,” Markowitz told PsyPost. “Therefore, language is powerful and consequential in a range of diverse settings (e.g., social media, investment pitches).”
Results from these studies suggest verbal authenticity is linked to positive impression formation across many contexts. Researchers suggest future work can address limitations of this work by using more vigorous measures of non-verbal influences on authenticity perceptions.
“The results are not causal and therefore, we need to run experiments to complement the results in this paper. I also believe that expanding to more settings may show important boundary conditions of when authenticity is a positive (or perhaps negative) indicator in first impressions,” Markowitz said.
The study, “Authentic First Impressions Relate to Interpersonal, Social, and Entrepreneurial Success“, was authored by David M. Markowitz, Maryam Kouchaki, Francesca Gino, Jeffrey T. Hancock, and Ryan L. Boyd.