My Research

My research program has two distinct lines of inquiry. First, using text analysis on big data sets within a variety of psychological contexts I study the language people use in their stories and social interactions. Second, examining computer-mediated domains (e.g., social networking sites) I study the romantic communication behaviors people engage in over a relationship’s lifespan. Below I outline these two lines of research in more detail.

Narrative and Language
Storytelling is at the heart of human communication. We tell stories to teach cultural norms, to entertain, and to help create shared perspective. We tell stories to make meaning out of events, and to create new worlds and possibilities for ourselves and others. Nevertheless, the most basic and simple properties of stories remain poorly understood from a scientific perspective. Whereas our knowledge of the impact and outcomes of stories and storytelling has recently seen progress in the psychological sciences, we remain fairly blind to the basic building blocks of stories and how the content of narratives is supported by their structure.

My research has focused on developing a reliable methodology to quantitatively map a story’s structure. Indeed, my dissertation centered on building a new analytic text analysis tool to help create a theoretical model in which to track the structure of narrative. I developed a five equally sized parts segmentation strategy to track how narratives develop and to determine whether or not a common structure exists for all narratives. I applied this new text analysis strategy to a corpus composed of over 5,000 narratives that contained approximately 61 million words. My research identified three common narrative processes that were shared across these narrative texts. To replicate this work, the strategy has recently been performed on an additional 65,000 narratives. Findings paralleled those found in my dissertation and confirm three processes make up narratives core structure. This project is published in Science Advances.

Technology and Romantic Relationships
My early interest in socially meaningful research largely focused on technology use in romantic relationships. In my master’s degree, I examined text messaging patterns in newly formed romantic relationships. My results showed that the newer the relationship the more frequent text messages occurred between romantic partners. Still interested in the interplay between technology and romantic relationships, I applied to a doctoral program at The University of Texas at Austin. It was here that I began to explore a range of topics about how people use technology to form, maintain, and end romantic relationships by studying their behavior on social networking sites. This research has been published on these topics in high-impact journals, such as Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Social Media + Society, Communication Reports, and Discourse Processes.

Over the last few years, I have had the pleasure of building my own Computers, Language, Individuals, & Modern Behavior Research Group. Students in my lab have gained hands on experience using linguistic software programs and have helped work on several research projects from start to finish. Recently, my students and I completed a project investigating which words women are most attracted to when reading popular romance novels. Our results showed that the highest rated novels contained words related to arousal, sexual/primal prowess, and sexual communication. Implications for our findings hint that authors inclusion of these words helps sells the romance story line to the reader more so than if these words were not used. This manuscript was recently published at the Journal of Language and Social Psychology, and featured in the Houston Chronicle, San Francisco Chronicle, and the San Antonio Express News.