Killers on social media: Computer text analysis identifies language of psychopaths
Language of psychopaths identified by computer analysis
Researchers used computerized text analysis to discover the language of psychopathic killers. The finding could have implications for helping law enforcement officials and psychologists identify and treat people with psychopathic tendencies. Scientists say the technology could also help identify criminals though social media like Twitter.
Jeff Hancock, Cornell professor of computing and information science, and colleagues at the University of British Columbia analyzed stories told by 14 from male murderers in Canadian prisons to find a distinct pattern in verbiage used in describing their crimes.
The researchers compared the recorded, analyzed crime descriptions to 38 murderers who were not diagnosed with psychopathic behavior.
The findings, published in the journal Legal and Criminological Psychology, showed psychopathic killers use words that match their personalities.
The analysis showed psychopaths frequently use the words "because," "since" or "so that”, which implies a crime was necessary.
They also discuss money, sex and food more often than non-psychopaths who talk more about family, social needs, religion and spirituality. Psychopaths also tended to discuss details of what they ate the day they committed their crime.
"Previous work has looked at how psychopaths use language," Hancock said. "Our paper is the first to show that you can use automated tools to detect the distinct speech patterns of psychopaths." This can be valuable to clinical psychologists, he said, because the approach to treatment of psychopaths can be very different.
Another finding was that psychopathic killers use the past tense, which the researchers say is a sign of detachment. They are also more likely to use “uh” and “umm” before speaking, perhaps in an effort to make a positive impression; thinking harder before they speak. They tend to be less language fluent.
The study shows psychopathic killers use distinct and identifiable word choices when talking about their crimes, which are “presumably” beyond conscious control. The authors concluded the findings “support the notion that psychopaths operate on a primitive but rational level.”
Psychopaths on Twitter and other social media just might be easier to identify using the new language analysis technology.