Even if you think you’re keeping your emotions under wraps, research suggests the language you use could reveal when you’re feeling stressed.
According to a study led by researchers at the University of Arizona, people tend to use a high prevalence of adverbs such as “so”, “very” and “really” in speech when they are stressed.
The researchers also identified that stressed people tend to talk less overall, compared to those who aren’t feeling under pressure.
To monitor how stress is reflected in language, researchers analysed the speech patterns of 143 volunteers who agreed to wear audio recorders for two days. These recorders turned on and recorded what participants were saying at random intervals.
The researchers then transcribed the recordings and analysed patterns of words used in relation to changes in gene expression related to stress.
The term ‘gene expression’ refers to the process by which information contained within a gene is used or ‘expressed’ in order to become useful to the body. Gene expression changes in response to stress.
The study also identified that people tended to use fewer third-person plural pronouns, such as “they” or “their”, when they were feeling stressed.
The researchers suggested this may be because we are inclined to think less about others when we feel under personal threat.
They added that looking at changes in language and gene expression gave a significantly more accurate indicator of when people were stressed than simply asking them to self-report emotions of stress, depression and anxiety.
“Language reflects how people connect with their world, but who would ever have thought that gene expression would be related to language?” James Pennebaker, a psychologist at the University of Texas, Austin, told Nature. “It’s such an exciting new way of thinking.”
The research is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.