James W. Pennebaker

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James Whiting Pennebaker
James pennebaker 2011.jpg
James W. Pennebaker at the 2011 Texas Book Festival.
Born (1950-03-02) March 2, 1950 (age 73)
OccupationRegents Centennial Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin
Known forSocial psychology
Writing therapy
Anthropological linguistics
physical symptoms

James Whiting Pennebaker (born March 2, 1950) is an American social psychologist. He is the Centennial Liberal Arts Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and a member of the Academy of Distinguished Teachers.[1] His research focuses on the relationship between natural language use, health, and social behavior, most recently "how everyday language reflects basic social and personality processes".[2]

Education and career[edit]

Pennebaker received his B.A. in psychology from Eckerd College in 1972 with honors and his Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin in 1977.[3]

He has held the following positions:[1]


Over the course of his career, Pennebaker has studied the nature of physical symptoms, health consequences of secrets, expressive writing, and natural language, and has received grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Templeton Foundation, the U.S. Army Research Institute, and other federal agencies for studies in language, emotion, and social dynamics.

A pioneer of writing therapy, he has researched the link between language and recovering from trauma and been "recognized by the American Psychological Association as one of the top researchers on trauma, disclosure, and health."[4][5] In particular, he finds a person's use of "low-level words", such as pronouns and articles, predictive of recovery as well as indicative of sex, age, and personality traits: "Virtually no one in psychology has realized that low-level words can give clues to large-scale behaviors."[4][6]

In the mid-1990s, he and colleagues developed the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC; pronounced "Luke"), a computerized text analysis program that outputs the percentage of words in a given text that fall into one or more of over 80 linguistic (e.g., first-person singular pronouns, conjunctions), psychological (e.g., anger, achievement), and topical (e.g., leisure, money) categories. It builds on previous research establishing strong links between linguistic patterns and personality or psychological state, but makes possible far more detailed results than did hand counts.[4][6] Pennebaker and associates have used this tool to analyze the language of Al Qaeda leaders and of political candidates, particularly in the 2008 United States presidential election.[4][6] The use of LIWC is widespread. It is commonly used to examine how different groups of people communicate or write, how individuals may differ in their writing across contexts, and is used to detect deception. Pennebaker blogs with associates on what linguistic analysis says about political leaders, at Wordwatchers: Tracking the language of public figures,[4] and Pennebaker Conglomerates, Inc. offers free LIWC-based text analysis tools online, including a language style matching calculator and a language-based application of the Thematic Apperception Test.[7]

In January 2017, Pennebaker was one of the speakers in the Linguistic Society of America's inaugural Public Lectures on Language series.[8]

Selected publications[edit]


  • The Psychology of Physical Symptoms. New York: Springer, 1982. ISBN 978-0-387-90730-7
  • (Ed., with Daniel M. Wegner) Handbook of Mental Control. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1993. ISBN 978-0-13-379280-5
  • Emotion, Disclosure, and Health. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 1995. ISBN 978-1-55798-308-4
  • Opening up: The Healing Power of Confiding in Others. New York: Morrow, 1990. Repr. Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions. New York: Guilford, 1997. ISBN 978-1-57230-238-9
  • Writing to Heal: A Guided Journal for Recovering from Trauma and Emotional Upheaval. Oakland, California: New Harbinger, 2004. ISBN 978-1-57224-365-1
  • The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2011. ISBN 978-1-60819-480-3


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b James W. Pennebaker Background Information Archived 2008-12-06 at the Wayback Machine, Department of Psychology, University of Texas.
  2. ^ James W. Pennebaker at Social Psychology Network, December 1, 2010, retrieved August 21, 2011.
  3. ^ "ECAlum:Academic Grads (1970s) - Eckerd Academic Wiki". 2013-07-07. Archived from the original on 2013-07-07. Retrieved 2020-02-20.
  4. ^ a b c d e Jessica Wapner, "He Counts Your Words (Even Those Pronouns)", Biography, New York Times October 13, 2008.
  5. ^ Earlita Chenault, James W. Pennebaker: Author of Writing to Heal Archived 2011-09-29 at the Wayback Machine, New Harbinger Publications, Inc., retrieved August 21, 2011.
  6. ^ a b c Jan Dönges, "What Your Choice of Words Says about Your Personality: A language analysis program reveals personality, mental health and intent by counting and categorizing words", Scientific American Mind, July 2009 (originally titled "You Are What You Say."
  7. ^ Online Projects, Pennebaker Conglomerates, Inc., Online Research Consortium, University of Texas Department of Psychology.
  8. ^ LSA Public Lectures on Language Series: http://www.linguisticsociety.org/content/lsa-public-lectures-language-series

External links[edit]