Personality and Language

How does what we say reveal who we are? The language of political leaders can be probed for patterns that yield insights into their behavior, policy preferences, and potential future actions. Examining leaders’ language is one avenue in the emerging field of text-as-data (Benoit, Laver, & Mikhaylov, 2009; Grimmer & King, 2010; Grimmer, 2010; Klebanov, Diermeier, & Beigman, 2008; Lowe, 2008). Social scientists from the fields of political science, psychology, computational linguistics, and computer science use many techniques to analyze political language to both explain patterns and predict future behavior. The range of texts ripe for analysis is immense, and growing. Leaders have the opportunity both to choose their words carefully while giving prepared remarks, and they also give extemporaneous speeches. Both occasions give scholars an opportunity for insight into the language used by leaders, as well as the implications for political phenomena. Viewed alongside personality traits, leaders’ words can be used to understand decisions made during their tenure in office, like bluffing strategies to avoid war, and intentions of entry into conflict.


This project broadly investigates the linguistic origins of political behavior by evaluating the language used by world leaders. It begins with the language used by United States presidents, and can also to extend this to other world leaders, especially authoritarian leaders who often lead more private and idiosyncratic lives. Our best understandings about their decision-making processes and cognitive mechanisms may come from their written and spoken words, since their personal and public lives tend to be more opaque. I obtained the original data from Drs. Rubenzer and Faschingbauer (2000; 2004), the authors who compiled Big Five personality data for all of the United States’ presidents, excepting Presidents Bush and Obama who came to office after the study was published. They used the revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R) to capture each of the six facets that correspond to each of the Big Five personality traits based on the assessments of biographers and expert raters. Scholars are currently using these data to investigate the foreign policy preferences of contemporary US presidents (Gallagher & Allen, 2013). Matching the personality profiles to language takes this avenue of scholarship one step further.

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