Communications researchers have taken this hunch to another level. They interviewed convicted murderers whose self-reported tests reveal them to be psychopaths and analyzed the specific language usage of their speech patterns. The research was led by Jeffrey Hancock, a communications professor at Cornell University, whose work focuses on two types of language phenomenon in particular: verbal irony and deception. Hancock and his team observed multiple specific abnormal speech patterns in the psychopaths they interviewed.
Defined by psychologists, a psychopath is someone who does not forge the emotional bonds that normal people do and do not empathize with others. They tend to see people as means to their own ends, rather than as individuals. These emotional abnormalities manifest in their speech patterns in a few interesting ways. The psychopaths who were interviewed tended to use a lot of causal phrases like “so” and “because.” The researchers interpreted this to mean that they were explaining their crimes away as a “logical outcome of a plan (something that ‘had’ to be done to achieve a goal).’” In contrast, other convicted criminals who are not psychopaths tend to use more language around religion and their own guilt when describing their crime. The researchers observed other aberrations in psychopaths’ speech. Psychopaths in the study spoke of basic needs like food and money twice as much as the other subjects in the study, and they also use more disfluencies (phrases like “uh” or “umm”) to break up their speech. Learn more about disfluencies here.
The real world application of these conclusions may seem far fetched, but police departments and investigators hope to use craigslist or facebook posts to determine psychological profiles of suspects or potential criminals.
What do you think about linguistic profiles of criminals?