Words of wisdom: language use over the life span

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2003 Aug;85(2):291-301. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.85.2.291.


Two projects explored the links between language use and aging. In the first project, written or spoken text samples from disclosure studies from over 3,000 research participants from 45 different studies representing 21 laboratories in 3 countries were analyzed to determine how people change in their use of 14 text dimensions as a function of age. A separate project analyzed the collected works of 10 well-known novelists, playwrights, and poets who lived over the last 500 years. Both projects found that with increasing age, individuals use more positive and fewer negative affect words, use fewer self-references, use more future-tense and fewer past-tense verbs, and demonstrate a general pattern of increasing cognitive complexity. Implications for using language as a marker of personality among current and historical texts are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Knowledge*
  • Language*
  • Life*
  • Linguistics
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Self Disclosure
  • Writing