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London - People who use the word “I” a lot are often thought to be self-centred and narcissistic, but new research suggests this simply isn’t true.
US researchers have claimed that people who frequently use the pronoun are actually less self-assured than those who do not.
They found that people who often use “I” in conversation tend to think they are inferior to the person they are speaking to.
The research, from the University of Texas, showed that people also use the word if they are feeling insecure or if they are in physical or emotional pain, The Wall Street Journal reports.
The team, led by Dr James Pennebaker, carried out five studies to look at the way rank is revealed by the use of pronouns in conversation. Each of the experiments suggested people who are thought of as having a higher status use the pronoun “I” less.
“There is a misconception that people who are confident, have power, have high-status tend to use ‘I’ more than people who are low status,” Pennebaker, told The Wall Street Journal. “That is completely wrong. The high-status person is looking out at the world and the low-status person is looking at himself.”
In the first of the five studies, students were split into 41 four-person groups and were asked to work as a team, but one member of the team was told to be the leader. The results showed that “I” accounted for 4.5 percent of the leaders’ words, while it was 5.6 percent of the non-leaders’ words.
In the next study, 112 students were split into pairs before being asked to solve a range of complicated problems. Neither person in each pair was asked to be in charge, but at the end of the experiment the volunteers were asked to say who they thought had led the work. The researchers noticed that the people who perceived themselves as having power used “I” less.
In the third experiment, 100 people were asked to have a conversation with a partner, after which they were asked to say which person in the pair had more power. The results showed that the person perceived to be more powerful tended to use “I” less.
In the next study, a group of people were asked to have an e-mail conversation with others before being asked how their status compared with each of the people they were communicating with. In each of the e-mail exchanges, the person who was perceived to have the higher status used the word “I” less.
In the final study, the researchers studied e-mail communications that had been collected from the Iraqi military – they found that in every conversation analysed, the person with the lower military ranking used the pronoun more.
Pennebaker said: “If I am the high-status person, I am thinking of what you need to do. If I am the low-status person, I am more humble and am thinking, ‘I should be doing this’.”
Pennebaker has also discovered that women tend to use “I” more than men and that young people, carers and those who are anxious or depressed tend to use “I” more.
He also discovered that people who are lying are less likely to use the pronoun. – Daily Mail