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I Write Like ... a neurotic

Posted by Christopher Shea  July 16, 2010 11:21 AM

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Dave Itzkoff blows the whistle on the algorithm behind the fleetingly popular site I Write Like. I had my own suspicions after it pegged Brainiac as echoing the voices of, alternately, Kurt Vonnegut and Dan Brown. In a mild bit of irony, the latter diagnosis came from a post in which Dan Brown served as a sort of punchline. But, according to Itzkoff, I Write Like also declares that the opening paragraphs of "Moby Dick" echo syntactical and vocabulary choices made by--Stephen King. The opening of "The Great Gatsby," it suggests, sounds like H.P. Lovecraft. We can all move on now.

In not unrelated news, a University of Colorado psychologist named Tal Yarkoni has found that blogs reveal more about their authors than they may think. A common theory is that the anonymity of the Internet allows people to concoct idealized personas. (No one knows you're a dog, etc.) But an analysis of the content of 694 blogs, containing an average of 115,000 words each, found that the content matched rather strikingly the personalities of their authors, as revealed on surveys.

Neurotic personality types used words associated with negative emotions, for instance, while extroverts invoked positive emotions. Bloggers who scored high on the trait of "agreeableness" seldom swore and referred often to the notion of community.

Research Digest Blog, which is far less boring than its name, reports that Yarkoni even found links between specific words and personalities:

Neuroticism correlated with use of 'irony' and negatively correlated with 'invited'; Extraversion correlated with 'drinks' and negatively correlated with 'computer'; Openness correlated with 'ink'; Agreeableness with 'wonderful' and negatively correlated with 'porn'; and Conscientiousness correlated with 'completed' and negatively correlated with 'boring.'

Yarkoni published his findings in the June issue of the Journal of Research in Personality.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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