Personality development through natural language

Kevin Lanning*, Rachel E. Pauletti, Laura A. King, Dan P McAdams

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Ego level is a broad construct that summarizes individual differences in personality development 1 . We examine ego level as it is represented in natural language, using a composite sample of four datasets comprising nearly 44,000 responses. We find support for a developmental sequence in the structure of correlations between ego levels, in analyses of Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) categories 2 and in an examination of the individual words that are characteristic of each level. The LIWC analyses reveal increasing complexity and, to some extent, increasing breadth of perspective with higher levels of development. The characteristic language of each ego level suggests, for example, a shift from consummatory to appetitive desires at the lowest stages, a dawning of doubt at the Self-aware stage, the centrality of achievement motivation at the Conscientious stage, an increase in mutuality and intellectual growth at the Individualistic stage and some renegotiation of life goals and reflection on identity at the highest levels of development. Continuing empirical analysis of ego level and language will provide a deeper understanding of ego development, its relationship with other models of personality and individual differences, and its utility in characterizing people, texts and the cultural contexts that produce them.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)327-334
Number of pages8
JournalNature human behaviour
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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