Personality - DISC


DISC is a versatile psychological framework designed to help leaders understand how people in their organizations relate to their peers and work with each other.

DISC is typically defined by four DISC styles, each representing a style of interacting with one’s environment:

  • D is normally referred to as dominant; D-type people tend to be ambitious, active, bold leaders;
  • I is alternately referred to as influence or inducement; I-type people lead through connections, creativity, and collaboration;
  • S is called stable, submissive, steady, or supportive; S-type people tend to be faithful, modest, methodical workers who value relationships; and
  • C is labeled compliant, conscientious, or cautious; C-type people prefer to do their jobs accurately, unobtrusively, and impersonally.

A person’s score on the four DISC styles are derived from their scores on two dimensions that describe how people relate to and work with their peers:

  • Boldness vs. Calmness; and
  • People vs. Task-Focused

Having dual measures for each axis allows us to accurately assess balanced people who have traits aligned with each side of a continuum (for example, someone who is ambitious and reserved). Those nuances would be obscured in one-dimensional measures, which would incorrectly group balanced people with individuals who are low on both ends of an axis (for example, neither interested in people nor tasks).

disc axis
"disc_dimensions": {
"bold_assertive_outgoing": 17.802246229122424,
"calm_methodical_reserved": 58.79646168683186,
"people_relationship_emotion_focus": 34.843038383589615,
"task_system_object_focus": 62.36714273832708,
"bold_vs_calm_energy_axis": -40.99421545770944,
"people_vs_task_focus_axis": -27.524104354737467,
"d_type": -13.47011110297197,
"i_type": -68.5183198124469,
"s_type": 13.47011110297197,
"c_type": 68.5183198124469


MeasureSummaryHigh ScoreLow Score
bold_assertive_outgoingFast-paced, decisive, assertive, sociable, natural leader, approach-oriented, focused on the future.Dominant and charismatic leaders; like to move forward quickly, stay busy, and be looked up to.Unassertive, methodical, focused on fewer tasks at a time, prefer following to leading.
calm_methodical_reservedReserved, calm, methodical, careful, avoidant, unemotional, happy to follow, focused on the past.Slower-paced, impersonal, verbally inhibited, unemotional; prefer unobtrusive positions.Impulsive, verbally fluent, emotional, not concerned with the past, not afraid to make mistakes.
people_relationship_emotion _focusInterested in others’ thoughts and feelings, good at understanding other people, warm, agreeable.Friendly, interested in others’ lives, supportive, social, easygoing, joking, polite.Uninterested in small talk, serious, not confident in social skills, can seem disagreeable or cold.
task_system_object_focusInterested in well-defined problem spaces and structured tasks, focused on work tasks and accomplishments.Detail-oriented, interested in numbers, objects, and abstract systems; impersonal, likes completing to-do lists.Unambitious, works in a more intuitive manner, less of a strategic worker, can be less work-focused and more distractible.
bold_vs_calm_energy_axisVertical DISC axis. Assertive, fast-paced or active, sociable; natural leadership ability and charisma.Empathic, emotional, social, socially adaptable, more interested in one-on-one interactions than abstract concepts.Unemotional, impersonal, more interested in tasks, achievement, and rule-based systems than other people.
people_vs_task_focus_axisHorizontal DISC axis. Warm, supportive, inquisitive about others’ lives, agreeable, joking, polite, interested in conversations.Bold, fast-acting, decisive, fearless, ambitious, future-thinking, and interested in and/or naturally good at leading.Cautious, slower and more methodical, reserved, verbally inhibited, focused on the past, happier in a follower or mid-level position.
d_typeBold and task-focused. Dominant; interested in accomplishing a lot quickly, leading, and planning aggressively for the future.Dominant, ambitious, forward-thinking, aggressive, controlling, task-focused leaders.Unassertive, unambitious, focused on the past; similar to s_type.
i_typeBold and people-focused. Influential; interested in being admired, creativity, and accomplishing things through relationships.Social, creative, charismatic, well-connected leader who cares about peers’ thoughts and feelings.Uninterested in relationships or leadership, careful, not focused on the future; similar to c_type.
s_typeCalm and people-focused. Guided more by relationships and loyalty than big picture goals. Reserved and not assertive.Loyal, modest, kind, agreeable, supportive; driven by relationships and a desire to help others.Active, impulsive, ambitious, disagreeable, more interested in accomplishing tasks than relationships; similar to d_type.
c_typeCalm and task-focused. Interested in avoiding mistakes, and getting things done meticulously and impersonally. Inhibited, not interested in standing out.Methodical, perfectionist, task and goal-oriented; socially distant or finds social interactions draining; needs time to react.Not interested in structured work or completing to-do lists; disinhibited, emotional, creative; similar to i_type.

The following documentation first summarizes classic and recent research on how DISC can be applied in specific use cases, such as assembling work teams. Next, we describe the creation of the Receptiviti language-based DISC measures through analysis of the relationships between workplace language use and DISC dimensions. Specifically, in addition to the four main styles (D, I, S, and C), four additional dimensions were developed to measure each end of the two main DISC axes, allowing for greater measurement flexibility than a two-dimensional measure alone (particularly useful for people who are balanced, combining characteristics from both ends of an axis). Finally, in an FAQ section, we answer questions users may have about the science behind these measures and their applications in specific scenarios.

DISC Background

The DISC model was originally developed in the 1920s by William Moulton Marston, an American psychologist who was educated at Harvard and held faculty positions at Tufts and American University (in addition to his work in the entertainment industry as the creator of Wonder Woman). He was interested in emotions, physiology, and practical applications of psychology. His best known research, beyond the DISC model, was on polygraph testing. Through the DISC model, Marston aimed to provide a holistic account of how individual differences in emotional and communication styles affect behavior in everyday social interactions and relationships.

DISC has been most commonly applied to workplace interactions: how people prefer to go about their work, relate to coworkers, and seek out an appropriate place in their workplace hierarchies. Two dimensions define the four DISC styles (see the figure below):

  1. Boldness vs. Calmness; and
  2. People vs. Task-Focused.

Scores on each of the two dimensions are mapped to the four DISC quadrants, which are labeled D, I, S, and C, each representing a style of interacting with one’s environment. The labels for each of the resulting four DISC categories sometimes vary depending on the researcher and business application. D is normally referred to as dominant; I is alternately referred to as influence or inducement; S is called stable, submissive, steady, or supportive; and C is labeled compliant, conscientious, or cautious. Because of the variation among labels, it tends to be more straightforward to simply refer to each type by its letter.

  • D-type people tend to be ambitious, active, bold leaders;
  • I-type people lead through connections, creativity, and collaboration;
  • S-type people tend to be faithful, modest, methodical workers who value relationships; and
  • C-type people prefer to do their jobs accurately, unobtrusively, and impersonally.

Boldness-Calmness & Extraversion

The vertical DISC dimension of bold vs. calm energy captures some aspects of extraversion, including social boldness, friendliness, activity or assertiveness, and positive emotion (Goldberg, 1999). We use the labels “bold” vs. “calm” energy rather than extraversion (or related terms like outgoing vs. reserved) because this dimension is not identical to extraversion as measured in academic personality science. This dimension has more to do with being bold, dominant, and fast-paced than being friendly or talkative. People who have more bold energy, as defined by DISC, are mentally and physically active and decisive, and are either interested in or naturally good at leadership in a workplace context.

People-Task Focus & Empathizing-Systemizing

The horizontal DISC dimension of people vs. task focus involves prosociality, agreeableness, and empathy on the people-focused end of the spectrum and a preference for well-structured tasks and non-human aspects of one’s surroundings (e.g., numbers, rule-based systems) over human connections on the task-focused end of the spectrum. This dimension resembles the empathizing and systemizing dimensions conceptualized by Simon Baron-Cohen and colleagues (2003).

Recent DISC Research

Peer-reviewed academic work on DISC is relatively sparse. However, there are a few empirical studies that support the idea that DISC measures can predict performance and assist in personnel selection. For example, in a crowdsourcing experiment that asked groups of strangers to collaborate online in an advertising design task, Lykourentzou et al. (2016) found that balanced teams (at least one of each DISC type, and no more than one D or I-type) outperformed imbalanced teams (3 or more D-types) in terms of objective performance (advertisement quality, novelty, and attention to detail rated by observers), sentiment in transcripts of their group discussions (linguistic positivity-to-negativity ratio), and subjective team member experiences (better communication, more acceptance, greater satisfaction with the group’s ads). Another study that tracked students over their final 2 years of college found that DISC scores from junior and senior year predicted GPA upon graduating from or leaving college (Deviney et al., 2010).

In terms of basic personality science, a few studies have compared DISC measures with other established measures of personality or creativity. For example, a recent study found that DISC is not redundant with the Big Five model of personality, although there are some significant facet-level correlations (e.g., I-type personalities tend to be less introverted, and S-types tend to be more emotionally stable; Jones & Hartley, 2013). Related personality research has found theory-consistent correlates between DISC categories and aspects of the creative process, with social, people-focused I-types preferring the big picture, brainstorming phase of creativity and more task-focused, methodical C types preferring to take on a detail-oriented, clarifying role (Puccio & Grivas, 2009).

Survey Measures

The Receptiviti DISC measures were refined using surveys: (1) peer assessments with one item per dimension and a single item for each of the four DISC types and (2) self-assessments including a validated personality questionnaire for each of the vertical and horizontal dimensions of DISC (bold vs. calm energy and people-focused vs. task-focused, measured using select extraversion facet measures and brief systemizing-empathizing scales).

Single-Item Peer Rating Survey Measures

Peers rated each other on the two DISC dimensions in two items: “What is this person's usual working style?” 1 = Active, fast-paced, assertive, dynamic, bold, 5 = Thoughtful, calm, methodical, moderate-paced, careful; and people vs. task focus: “What is this person’s attentional focus at work?” 1 = People-focused, accepting, empathic, receptive, agreeable, 5 = Task-focused, logical, objective, skeptical, challenging.

The two dimensions are intended to be independent of each other. Partly consistent with that aim, ratings on the two scales were modestly but not significantly negatively correlated with each other, r = -.30.

Notably, there are theoretical reasons to believe that there should be a modest negative correlation between the vertical and horizontal DISC dimensions. The bold-calm dimension involves assertiveness (desire for dominance) and leadership (being someone people naturally follow), and therefore will likely be correlated with leadership positions in many organizations. People with more power or status tend to be less empathic or less likely to take others’ perspectives (Galinsky et al, 2006), which may be reflected in lower scores on the horizontal people vs. task focus dimension.

Participants additionally rated both themselves and peers on the four DISC types, with one item per type on a five-point scale (very inaccurate, moderately inaccurate, neither accurate nor inaccurate, moderately accurate, and very accurate) with the following instruction:

Indicate the degree to which you feel each description fits this person's behavior in the workplace.

  • D: Ambitious, aggressive, decisive, controlling, dominant, quick reactions, goal oriented.
  • I: Optimistic, social, enthusiastic, spontaneous, charming, open, creative.
  • S: Patient, modest, loyal, discreet, kind, supportive, reliable.
  • C: Conventional, objective, structured, analytical, perfectionist, socially distant, needs time to react.

According to the models’ design, DISC types should be moderately negatively correlated or uncorrelated (independent of) each other. Consistent with that prediction, types within the same column were generally uncorrelated. As we would predict, the diagonals (types with opposite categorization on both the bold-calm and people-task dimensions) were negatively correlated with each other: D-type and S-type (r = -.587) and I-type and C-type (r = -.287).

Four-Facet Extraversion (12 Items)

The vertical dimension of DISC (higher for D and I, lower for S and C) is alternately labeled as activity (active vs. inactive), pace (fast-paced vs. slow-paced), and extraversion (outgoing vs. reserved). To measure extraversion comprehensively, capturing all possible facets, we administered Goldberg’s (1999) full AB5C 9-facet scale including 3 questions for each facet.

We initially viewed five extraversion facets as theoretically relevant to both D and I styles: assertiveness (i.e., dominance, activity), poise (i.e., social skills, confidence), leadership (i.e., magnetism, communication skill), sociability (i.e., preferring to be around people), and provocativeness (i.e., liking attention and strong reactions from others). Reliability analysis showed that provocativeness (items had to do with making noise and being loud) was negatively correlated with the other facets, so that facet was removed. The four remaining facets had good internal reliability (Cronbach’s standardized α = .74, raw α = .70).

Demonstrating convergent validity, the resulting four-facet measure of extraversion (assertiveness, poise, leadership, and sociability) was positively correlated with a composite measure of the vertical DISC dimension based on the four DISC self-ratings (dominance + influencer – submissive – compliant), r = .60, p < .01.

The items and facets that were retained for this measure are as follows (r = reverse-scored):


  1. Automatically take charge.
  2. Come up with a solution right away.
  3. Try to lead others.


  1. Feel comfortable around people.
  2. Am comfortable in unfamiliar situations.
  3. Find it difficult to approach others. (R)


  1. Know how to captivate people.
  2. Express myself easily.
  3. Have little to say. (R)


  1. Can't do without the company of others.
  2. Like to be alone. (R)
  3. Seek quiet. (R)

SQ-EQ (13 Items)

DISC’s horizontal dimension (sometimes referred to as people vs. task oriented, agreeable vs. challenging, or empathic vs. logical) is essentially the same as the empathizing-systemizing spectrum conceptualized by Simon Baron-Cohen and colleagues, who started studying these traits in the context of autism spectrum disorder. The theory was that people who have more extreme autism symptoms tend to be more interested in rule-based systems than other people's thoughts and feelings, finding objects and their mathematical and physical properties more interesting than humans and their mental states. In the academic literature, the empathizing quotient (EQ) and systemizing quotient (SQ) are reported to be moderately negatively correlated, and the creators of the scale suggest that it be treated as a continuous spectrum with interest in people or empathy at one end and interest in rule-based systems or the physical world at the other.

To measure systemizing and empathizing, we used abbreviated versions of the short SQ and EQ scales (Wakabayashi et al., 2006) developed by Micah Iserman based on his research with Molly Ireland at Texas Tech University. The very brief SQ was supplemented by five items from the full-length scale that had to do with interest in natural systems (plants, animals, humans’ physical appearance) in order to ensure that the scale would have a better chance of performing similarly across people who are and are not from engineering backgrounds, resulting in 10 total items for the SQ and five items for the EQ.

After removing two SQ items with poor reliability, the 8-item version of the brief SQ had acceptable reliability, standardized α = .66. The brief five-item EQ was highly internally consistent, standardized α = .91.

Demonstrating convergent validity, the single-item task vs. people-focus measure correlated strongly with the EQ-SQ difference score (higher numbers indicating more interest in people and empathy), r = -.54. It was also negatively correlated with the composite measure of self-rated task focus (dominant + compliant – influencer – submissive), r = -.28.

The final items for the SQ and EQ were as follows:


  1. I am quick to spot when someone in a group is feeling awkward or uncomfortable.
  2. I can tell if someone is masking their true emotion.
  3. I can tune into how someone else feels rapidly and intuitively.
  4. Other people tell me I am good at understanding how they are feeling and what they are thinking.
  5. I am good at predicting how someone will feel.


  1. I am interested in knowing the path a river takes from its source to the sea.
  2. I am curious about life on other planets.
  3. When I look at a building, I am curious about the precise way it was constructed.
  4. When I am walking outdoors or hiking, I am curious about how the various kinds of trees differ.
  5. When traveling by train, I often wonder exactly how the rail networks are coordinated.
  6. When I travel, I like to learn specific details about the culture of the place I am visiting.
  7. I can easily visualize how the motorways in my region link up.
  8. I am fascinated by how machines work.

DISC Language Measures

The composite language measures are based on a combination of correlates with the two DISC dimensions based on self-assessments (the four-facet extraversion measure and short EQ-SQ score described above) and the two-dimensional (boldness vs. calmness and people vs. task focus) items on the coworker rating survey.

Formula Design Strategy

Linguistic correlates of self-report measures were not included in the language metrics even if they were (a) very low base rate (<1%) and therefore less likely to be reliable across samples or (b) intuitively unrelated to the underlying DISC constructs (e.g., positive emotions correlating with introversion-calmness rather than extraversion-boldness) and therefore likely to be unique to our sample.

We used both self-assessed and peer-assessed DISC dimensions as different components of “ground truth” because DISC is inherently a social, group processes model that encompasses not only how people view themselves but also how they relate to and are viewed by others. Such an approach was important in this case because DISC captures a range of characteristics that are more internal or difficult to read in casual workplace interactions (e.g., preference for order, negativity) and more external, social characteristics that others will be better judges of than oneself (e.g., empathy, sociability; see Vazire’s 2010 research on self-other knowledge asymmetry in personality perception). Measures were constructed using text samples of at least 350 words; the average conversation we analyzed had about 1,700 words.

Formulas to Infer DISC Dimensions

The resulting language dimensions capture multiple aspects of the vertical and horizontal DISC dimensions. The vertical bold vs. calm energy dimension is measured by words relating to activity, sociability, ambition, higher social status, emotional intensity, and future orientation on the bold end of the spectrum. Words relating to lower social status, avoidance, unemotionality, verbal inhibition, and focus on the past reflect lower scores on the bold vs. calm dimension.

The horizontal people vs. task focus dimension is measured by socially engaged, warm language on the people-focused end of the spectrum. More impersonal, evaluative, unemotional, and ambitious or goal-oriented language indicates a more task-focused working style.

The four DISC styles and two dimensions can be calculated from the four formulas for bold_energy, calm_energy, people_focus, and task_focus. The available DISC framework scores are calculated as follows:

  • bold_vs_calm_energy_axis = bold_assertive_outgoing - calm_methodical_reserved
  • people_vs_task_focus_axis = people_relationship_emotion_focus - task_system_object_focus
  • d_type = bold_vs_calm_energy_axis - people_vs_task_focus_axis
  • i_type = bold_vs_calm_energy_axis + people_vs_task_focus_axis
  • s_type = - bold_vs_calm_energy_axis + people_vs_task_focus_axis
  • c_type = - bold_vs_calm_energy_axis - people_vs_task_focus_axis

Linguistic DISC Measure Correlates

The composite language measures correlated significantly with both peer and self-reports, with stronger correlations for peer ratings. Language-based boldness-calmness was strongly associated with peer reports (r = .79) and moderately associated with self-reports (extraversion survey measure: r = .54, single-item bold-calm measure: r = .19). The language-based people-task focus measure was closely aligned with the single-item self-reported people-task focus measure (r = .60) and moderately correlated with peer reports (r = .30) and the longer survey measures (systemizing r = -.44, empathy r = .28).

It is not surprising that the bold-calm axis is more strongly correlated with how people were viewed by peers, whereas the people-task focus axis is more closely linked with how people see themselves. The characteristics that make up the bold-calm axis are inherently social and external: if someone is assertive, active, and sociable, it’s relatively obvious to even a casual observer. Interests in other people’s feelings or work-related tasks are more internal and therefore harder to judge accurately from the outside. Personality research similarly finds that extraversion is easier for observers to judge than traits that are more personally experiential like neuroticism or openness (Carney et al., 2007).

In the DISC validation study, plotting individuals’ places on the two dimensions according to each measure shows that the behavioral (language-based) measures often represent an average of peer and self reports.


Do DISC scores or types change over time or across different social contexts, like work and home?

DISC is a personality framework, meaning that it describes characteristics of people that are relatively stable across situations and over time. There are some caveats to that general rule though.

First, although personality has rank-order stability, personality traits and their behavioral indicators do change across contexts. For example, someone with a positive personality may not appear to be joyful in serious or stressful scenarios, such as when dealing with a crisis, but they’ll still probably be more optimistic or lighthearted than the average person in the same scenario (that is, their rank-order positivity will remain high, despite not being very positive in the moment). This also means that people can manifest different personality states or traits depending on the people they are talking with (i.e., the other person’s personality and/or goals) and the nature of the conversation (especially how volatile or high-pressure the conversation is).

Second, personality slowly changes over time. Research tracking the same people over several decades has found that people gradually become more emotionally stable, self-confident, warm, and dominant over the lifetime as a result of normal developmental processes; people also gradually gain better self-control, becoming less impulsive as a result (Roberts & Mroczek, 2008; Roberts et al., 2006). Because the vertical bold-calm DISC dimension partly reflects dominance, we would expect people to slowly move up on that dimension as they gain expertise and confidence and have more leadership opportunities.

However, it’s important to note that, because of the rank-order stability of personality, a person who becomes bolder over time will still probably be less bold than someone with her same level of experience who started at a higher point on the bold-calm spectrum. That is, they will both become bolder as they gain seniority in an organization, thus preserving their rank relative to each other as they slowly become more confident and assertive.

People will be more likely to change DISC types over time, or consciously adjust their type through their own efforts, if they are near a borderline to start with (i.e., scoring close to the midpoint of either the bold-calm or people-task dimensions).

Having shorter text samples and fewer text samples in a given category will increase the volatility of a person’s DISC scores. When assessed using language, estimates of a person’s DISC style (or any personality measure) will be more stable with substantial text samples across a range of representative contexts.

Some of the DISC types sound less appealing than others. Are any DISC types bad, or should any be viewed as a red flag?

Like research in other areas of diversity and inclusivity, DISC research suggests that balance should be the aim in work teams and small groups rather than selecting only people with a certain orientation or type. Especially with traits like dominance or extraversion, research shows that people are better off with partners or team members at both ends of the personality spectrum (e.g., Kristoff-Brown et al., 2005). For example, leaders like to lead and do better when they’re working with people who are happy to follow them.

More broadly, teams with diverse perspectives (based on gender, ethnicity, expertise, or personality) tend to outperform more homogeneous teams. They don’t always communicate with each other as easily at first, because they have less common ground, but in the end, research finds that diverse organizations tend to be more successful in terms of earnings and customer satisfaction (Herring, 2009).

How can DISC insights be applied at work? Should DISC feedback be viewed as something that offers insights, motivates change, or both?

Like other personality measures, DISC can be used to gain insight or to make important changes in how people work together.

For example, it may be useful in many cases to simply understand an organization’s leaders or teams better. Knowing how much a person cares about task-focus, empathy, or dominance can help make sense of their past behavior.

DISC feedback can also provide information that can help leaders motivate people to do better work and feel more at home in an organization in the future. DISC information can help with personnel selection, team building, and choosing effective incentives. For example, recent research has found that teams produce better work and get along better when they have a balance of DISC types as opposed to a majority of D-types (bold, task-focused people who prefer to lead; Lykourentzou et al., 2016).

Does DISC reflect how people see themselves or how others perceive them?

The linguistic DISC measure was based on a combination of psychological theory, peers’ perceptions, and self-views. There are a few reasons for this. DISC is meant to predict and explain social behavior in groups, so it’s important to capture the reputational, social component of DISC in the language measure. Different personality traits are also differently visible to the self and others. There are aspects of one’s personality that coworkers and friends will always know better than a person does themselves (especially aspects of social behavior, like how dominant a person acts or how they behave in large groups; Vazire, 2010). DISC involves both kinds of traits: characteristics that are most easily perceived by the self, and behavior patterns that are easiest to see from an outside perspective.

How does DISC relate to other popular personality frameworks, like the Big Five?

Both DISC dimensions have some similarities with other personality models. The bold vs. calm energy dimension involves a few extraversion facets (i.e., fine-grained characteristics that make up larger traits): assertiveness, sociability, leadership, and poise. The people vs. task focus dimension has some parallels with agreeableness, or the desire to get along with and support other people, on the people-focused end of the spectrum. As described above, our validation studies suggest that the language-based DISC measures have good convergent and divergent validity -- that is, they correlate with other personality measures that it should and should not correlate with in the right directions -- but are not identical to or redundant with other personality measures.

My DISC type doesn’t match how I see myself or how I want to be perceived. What does that mean?

That could mean a few things. The simplest answer is that, in some cases, you will be correct: Your DISC scores could be wrong. Linguistic measures of any kind are only as good as the words that are fed into the model. If the data we analyze for you is not representative of how you usually behave at work, then your DISC scores will probably not reflect your true DISC type.

It is also possible that the language we analyzed does accurately reflect how you interact with people at work but doesn’t bear much resemblance to how you see yourself – or who you would like to be. If that’s the case, it could mean that you’re not being yourself at work, in a sense, or that, in the text samples we’ve analyzed, you’re dealing with stressors at work that make you behave atypically. In that case, linguistic DISC measures can provide insight into how others might be seeing you, giving you a chance to change how you interact with people at work in order to bring your work reputation more in line with how you see yourself.

See also the answer above to “Does DISC reflect how people see themselves or how others perceive them?”

Can a person “trick” the language-based measures into scoring them as a particular DISC style by using words associated with that style?

Each linguistic DISC measure is based on a complex combination of word categories. That alone makes it unlikely that a person could alter their DISC scores much by intentionally using certain keywords. A person would need to simultaneously modify a large number of language categories while talking or writing to change their DISC scores.

The language measures are also based on several word categories that are difficult to monitor or regulate in everyday language use. For example, the formulas include a number of grammatical language categories known as “function words,” which tend to be produced and processed automatically (without much conscious thought) in conversation. Think of a recent conversation: you will probably have a good sense of the conversation’s emotional tone and topic but will struggle to remember how you or your conversation partner used words like and, the, for, I, and it. That is because these words perform mainly supporting roles in language and do not have much meaning on their own, outside of the context of a sentence. For that reason, function words are psychometrically “clean” language categories – you can be relatively sure when you’re analyzing them that you’re getting a true picture of a person’s mental state, as opposed to seeing whatever a person wants you to see.


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