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Concept: Personal pronoun


Children and adults follow cues such as case marking and word order in their assignment of semantic roles in simple transitives (e.g., the dog chased the cat). It has been suggested that the same cues are used for the interpretation of complex sentences, such as transitive relative clauses (RCs) (e.g., that’s the dog that chased the cat) (Bates, Devescovi, & D'Amico, 1999). We used a pointing paradigm to test German-speaking 3-, 4-, and 6-year-old children’s sensitivity to case marking and word order in their interpretation of simple transitives and transitive RCs. In Experiment 1, case marking was ambiguous. The only cue available was word order. In Experiment 2, case was marked on lexical NPs or demonstrative pronouns. In Experiment 3, case was marked on lexical NPs or personal pronouns. Whereas the younger children mainly followed word order, the older children were more likely to base their interpretations on the more reliable case-marking cue. In most cases, children from both age groups were more likely to use these cues in their interpretation of simple transitives than in their interpretation of transitive RCs. Finally, children paid more attention to nominative case when it was marked on first-person personal pronouns than when it was marked on third-person lexical NPs or demonstrative pronouns, such as der Löwe ‘the-NOM lion’ or der ‘he-NOM.’ They were able to successfully integrate this case-marking cue in their sentence processing even when it appeared late in the sentence. We discuss four potential reasons for these differences across development, constructions, and lexical items. (1) Older children are relatively more sensitive to cue reliability. (2) Word order is more reliable in simple transitives than in transitive RCs. (3) The processing of case marking might initially be item-specific. (4) The processing of case marking might depend on its saliency and position in the sentence.

Concepts: Subject, English language, German language, Grammatical case, Nominative case, Accusative case, Dative case, Personal pronoun


Depressive symptomatology is manifested in greater first-person singular pronoun use (i.e., I-talk), but when and for whom this effect is most apparent, and the extent to which it is specific to depression or part of a broader association between negative emotionality and I-talk, remains unclear. Using pooled data from N = 4,754 participants from 6 labs across 2 countries, we examined, in a preregistered analysis, how the depression-I-talk effect varied by (a) first-person singular pronoun type (i.e., subjective, objective, and possessive), (b) the communication context in which language was generated (i.e., personal, momentary thought, identity-related, and impersonal), and © gender. Overall, there was a small but reliable positive correlation between depression and I-talk (r = .10, 95% CI [.07, .13]). The effect was present for all first-person singular pronouns except the possessive type, in all communication contexts except the impersonal one, and for both females and males with little evidence of gender differences. Importantly, a similar pattern of results emerged for negative emotionality. Further, the depression-I-talk effect was substantially reduced when controlled for negative emotionality but this was not the case when the negative emotionality-I-talk effect was controlled for depression. These results suggest that the robust empirical link between depression and I-talk largely reflects a broader association between negative emotionality and I-talk. Self-referential language using first-person singular pronouns may therefore be better construed as a linguistic marker of general distress proneness or negative emotionality rather than as a specific marker of depression. (PsycINFO Database Record

Concepts: Gender, Grammatical person, Objective pronoun, Grammatical number, Pronoun, Personal pronoun, English personal pronouns, Possessive pronoun


Personal pronouns have been shown to influence cognitive perspective taking during comprehension. Studies using single sentences found that 3rd person pronouns facilitate the construction of a mental model from an observer’s perspective, whereas 2nd person pronouns support an actor’s perspective. The direction of the effect for 1st person pronouns seems to depend on the situational context. In the present study, we investigated how personal pronouns influence discourse comprehension when people read fiction stories and if this has consequences for affective components like emotion during reading or appreciation of the story. We wanted to find out if personal pronouns affect immersion and arousal, as well as appreciation of fiction. In a natural reading paradigm, we measured electrodermal activity and story immersion, while participants read literary stories with 1st and 3rd person pronouns referring to the protagonist. In addition, participants rated and ranked the stories for appreciation. Our results show that stories with 1st person pronouns lead to higher immersion. Two factors-transportation into the story world and mental imagery during reading-in particular showed higher scores for 1st person as compared to 3rd person pronoun stories. In contrast, arousal as measured by electrodermal activity seemed tentatively higher for 3rd person pronoun stories. The two measures of appreciation were not affected by the pronoun manipulation. Our findings underscore the importance of perspective for language processing, and additionally show which aspects of the narrative experience are influenced by a change in perspective.

Concepts: Psychology, Cognitive psychology, Emotion, Affect display, Pronoun, Personal pronoun, Pronouns, English personal pronouns


Among both laypersons and researchers, extensive use of first-person singular pronouns (i.e., I-talk) is considered a face-valid linguistic marker of narcissism. However, the assumed relation between narcissism and I-talk has yet to be subjected to a strong empirical test. Accordingly, we conducted a large-scale (N = 4,811), multisite (5 labs), multimeasure (5 narcissism measures) and dual-language (English and German) investigation to quantify how strongly narcissism is related to using more first-person singular pronouns across different theoretically relevant communication contexts (identity-related, personal, impersonal, private, public, and stream-of-consciousness tasks). Overall (r = .02, 95% CI [-.02, .04]) and within the sampled contexts, narcissism was unrelated to use of first-person singular pronouns (total, subjective, objective, and possessive). This consistent near-zero effect has important implications for making inferences about narcissism from pronoun use and prompts questions about why I-talk tends to be strongly perceived as an indicator of narcissism in the absence of an underlying actual association between the 2 variables. (PsycINFO Database Record

Concepts: Grammatical person, Objective pronoun, Grammatical number, Pronoun, Personal pronoun, English personal pronouns, Possessive pronoun, Possessive adjective


The present study examined markers of pain catastrophizing in the word use of patients with chronic pain. Patients (n = 71) completed the Pain Catastrophizing Scale and wrote about their life with pain. Quantitative word count analysis examined whether the essays contained linguistic indicators of catastrophizing. Bivariate correlations showed that catastrophizing was associated with greater use of first person singular pronouns, such as “I” (r = .27, p≤ .05) and pronouns referencing other people (r = 28, p≤ .05). Catastrophizing was further significantly associated with greater use of sadness (r = .35, p≤ .01) and anger (r = .30, p≤ .05) words. No significant relationships with positive emotion and cognitive process words were evident. Controlling for patients' engagement in the writing task, gender, age, pain intensity, and neuroticism in multiple regression, the linguistic categories together uniquely explained 13.6% of the variance in catastrophizing (p≤ .001). First person singular pronouns (β = .24, p≤ .05) and words relating to sadness (β = .25, p≤ .05) were significant, and pronouns referencing other people (β = .19, p≤ .10) were trending. The results suggest that pain catastrophizing is associated with a “linguistic fingerprint” that can be discerned from patients' natural word use.

Concepts: Psychology, Language, Writing, Verb, Grammatical person, Grammatical conjugation, Personal pronoun, English personal pronouns


This study investigated the relationship between smartphone multitasking and romantic intimacy. Participants currently in a romantic relationship (N = 128; 98 women; M age = 26.7 years, SD = 4.3) filled out two sets of questionnaires: The Emotional Intimacy Scale, measuring romantic intimacy, and the mobile phone interference in life scale, measuring multitasking on a smartphone. Participants filled out each questionnaire twice, once in relation to themselves and once in relation to their partner (for the partner questionnaire, statements were altered from the first person to the third person singular, he/she instead of I). Results suggested that only the partners' smartphone multitasking scores were negatively related to ratings of romantic intimacy, whereas participants' own smartphone multitasking scores were not related to ratings of romantic intimacy. These results can be explained by the actor-observer asymmetry, suggesting that participants attributed their multitasking behaviors to situations, but attributed their partners multitasking behaviors to behavior patterns or intentionality. This research suggests that smartphone multitasking has a negative association with face-to-face interactions. People should attend to the costs of smartphone use during face-to-face interactions.

Concepts: Psychology, Behavior, Verb, Quantitative marketing research, Mobile phone, Grammatical person, Personal pronoun, It


An epicene pronoun is a gender-neutral singular pronoun used in sentences when the gender of the subject is unknown or unspecified. In English, he and they are commonly-used epicene pronouns. Until recently, he has been widely accepted as being grammatically correct. However, many have argued that he is sexist because it may bias people to think about males. Two experiments were performed using a lexical decision task in which participants reacted to gendered words (e.g., aunt and uncle) after reading sentences using he, they, or unrelated epicene pronouns. We conducted the experiments 15 years apart in order to explore whether change in pronoun usage and the social significance of pronouns would be associated with different priming effects. Both experiments demonstrated that pronouns influence the processing of gendered nouns. However, in Experiment 1 they facilitated the processing of feminine nouns whereas in Experiment 2, he slowed the processing of feminine nouns. We discuss these results with respect to language change and conclude that they is a more effective epicene.

Concepts: Gender, English language, Latin, Grammatical gender, Personal pronoun, Reflexive pronoun, Gender-neutral pronoun, Singular they


This study investigated whether Vincent van Gogh became increasingly self-focused-and thus vulnerable to depression-towards the end of his life, through a quantitative analysis of his written pronoun use over time. A change-point analysis was conducted on the time series formed by the pronoun use in Van Gogh’s letters. We used time as a predictor to see whether there was evidence for increased self-focus towards the end of Van Gogh’s life, and we compared this to the pattern in the letters written before his move to Arles. Specifically, we examined Van Gogh’s use of first person singular pronouns (FPSP) and first person plural pronouns (FPPP) in the 415 letters he wrote while working as an artist before his move to Arles, and in the next 248 letters he wrote after his move to Arles until his death in Auvers-sur-Oise. During the latter period, Van Gogh’s use of FPSP showed an annual increase of 0.68% (SE = 0.15, p < 0.001) and his use of FPPP showed an annual decrease of 0.23% (SE = 0.04, p < 0.001), indicating increasing self-focus and vulnerability to depression. This trend differed from Van Gogh's pronoun use in the former period (which showed no significant trend in FPSP, and an annual increase of FPPP of 0.03%, SE = 0.02, p = 0.04). This study suggests that Van Gogh's death was preceded by a gradually increasing self-focus and vulnerability to depression. It also illustrates how existing methods (i.e., quantitative linguistic analysis and change-point analysis) can be combined to study specific research questions in innovative ways.

Concepts: Grammatical person, Grammatical number, Vincent van Gogh, Personal pronoun, English personal pronouns, Starry Night Over the Rhone, Auvers-sur-Oise, Arles


We investigated pronoun usage by sexual predators in their online interactions with “decoys” (i.e., adults identifying themselves as children). Computerized text analysis was conducted for 561 instant messaging conversations between contact-driven solicitation offenders (CDSOs) and decoys. CDSOs not only used significantly fewer first-person and more second-person singular pronouns than the decoys but also used more second-person pronouns than adult romantic partners discussing their courtship. The other-focused nature of CDSOs' text messages is consistent with theories of the luring process positing predators' emphasis on making their targets feel special to initiate the cycle of entrapment.

Concepts: Sex offender, Noun, Communication, Grammatical person, Text messaging, Instant messaging, Personal pronoun, English personal pronouns


Perspective is a crucial feature for communicating about events. Yet it is unclear how linguistically encoded perspective relates to cognitive perspective taking. Here, we tested the effect of perspective taking with short literary stories. Participants listened to stories with 1st or 3rd person pronouns referring to the protagonist, while undergoing fMRI. When comparing action events with 1st and 3rd person pronouns, we found no evidence for a neural dissociation depending on the pronoun. A split sample approach based on the self-reported experience of perspective taking revealed 3 comprehension preferences. One group showed a strong 1st person preference, another a strong 3rd person preference, while a third group engaged in 1st and 3rd person perspective taking simultaneously. Comparing brain activations of the groups revealed different neural networks. Our results suggest that comprehension is perspective dependent, but not on the perspective suggested by the text, but on the reader’s (situational) preference.

Concepts: Psychology, Neuroscience, Cognitive science, Grammar, Revealed preference, The Reader, Personal pronoun, Pronouns