Change of Perspective

Musings on Writing, Reading, and Life Narratives

Fiction writers and literary critics speak of point of view. Social scientists are more likely to discuss perspective. But both of these terms refer to essentially the same construct: the consciousness behind the perception and narration of experience. Each individual’s point of view is unique, and point of view shapes the stories people tell to themselves and to others about themselves and their relationships with their environment. The same event narrated from two different perspectives will produce two different stories.

A change of perspective can expand our perception and reframe our thinking about our experiences. We can all benefit from an occasional change of perspective.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Psychologist James Pennebaker Counts, and Analyzes, Words

Scientist at Work - James W. Pennebaker - Psychologist James Pennebaker Counts, and Analyzes, Words - Biography -

James Pennebaker, a psychologist at the University of Texas, is a pioneer in studying the relationship between language and health. In his early experiments he found that writing about traumatic experiences can strengthen people's immune systems. More recently, he has turned to analyzing every word someone says or writes to see what word choice may indicate about people.
He found, for example, that Osama bin Laden’s use of first-person pronouns (I, me, my, mine) remained fairly constant over several years. By contrast, his second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri, used such words more and more often.

“This dramatic increase suggests greater insecurity, feelings of threat, and perhaps a shift in his relationship with bin Laden,” Dr. Pennebaker wrote in his report , which was published in The Content Analysis Reader (Sage Publications, July 2008).

To count and analyze the kinds of words someone uses, Pennebaker has developed a software program.
To test-drive the program, Dr. Pennebaker, a pioneer in the field of therapeutic writing, asked a group of people recovering from serious illness or other trauma to engage in a series of writing exercises. The word tallies showed that those whose health was improving tended to decrease their use of first-person pronouns through the course of the study.

Health improvements were also seen among people whose use of causal words — because, cause, effect — increased. Simply ruminating about an experience without trying to understand the causes is less likely to lead to psychological growth, he explained; the subjects who used causal words “were changing the way they were thinking about things.”

Pennebaker has also found that men tend to use more articles (a, an, and the) than women and that women tend to use more pronouns (he, she, they) than men. "The difference, he says, may suggest that men are more prone to concrete thinking and women are more likely to see things from other perspectives."

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