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Personality development through natural language


Ego level is a broad construct that summarizes individual differences in personality development1. 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) categories2 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.

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The authors received no specific funding for this work. Portions of this paper have been previously presented at the 2016 APS and 16th Annual SPSP Conferences. The paper benefitted from discussions with R. Boyd and D. Lopez-Benetton.

Author information

K.L. designed the research and analysed the data. All authors collected the data and contributed to the writing of the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Correspondence to Kevin Lanning.

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Word use and LIWC categories by ego level

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Fig. 1: Ego level and the LIWC.
Fig. 2: A comparison word cloud showing the 250 terms showing the strongest association with ego level.