Gonzales, A.G., Hancock, J.T., & Pennebaker, J. (2010). Language style matching as a predictor of social dynamics in small groups. Communication Research, 37, 3-19.
Synchronized verbal behavior can reveal important information about social dynamics. This study introduces the linguistic style matching (LSM) algorithm for calculating verbal mimicry based on an automated textual analysis of function words. The LSM algorithm was applied to language generated during a small group discussion in which 70 groups comprised of 324 individuals engaged in an information search task either face-to-face or via text-based computer-mediated communication. As a metric, LSM predicted the cohesiveness of groups in both communication environments, and it predicted task performance in face-to-face groups. Other language features were also related to the groups’ cohesiveness and performance, including word count, pronoun patterns, and verb tense. The results reveal that this type of automated measure of verbal mimicry can be an objective, efficient, and unobtrusive tool for predicting underlying social dynamics. In total, the study demonstrates the effectiveness of using language to predict change in social psychological factors of interest.