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Running head: THE EFFECT OF SOCIAL STATUS

The Effect of Social Status and Sex on Social Media Language Use

Abigail Alger

Catawba College

Submitted in partial fulfillment of Psychology 3560, Social Psychology

December 10, 2018


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Abstract

Instagram was the social media platform from which data was collected for this study. The

purpose of this study was to examine how sex and status influence the use of affect language in

social media captions. A list titled “Top 100 Most Powerful Celebrities” was obtained from

www.ranker.com and was the source from which the celebrities in this study were gathered. The

celebrities were divided by sex as well as by social status (high or low). A total of 947 captions

were collected from Instagram. The celebrities were classified as either high or low as a result of

the number of followers their verified account possessed. The captions were run through the

Linguistic Inquiry Word Count program in order to examine affect word use. The data showed that

men used more angry words than women. Also found by the data was that high-status individuals

used the word “I” more than low status individuals. The findings of this study are important in that

it allows for an understand as to how celebrities use Instagram as a way promote themselves and

their work in a positive or meaningful way.


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The Effect of Social Status and Sex on Social Media Language Use

Nearly everyone is familiar with social media to some extent. Whether people are

scrolling through a Facebook newsfeed to hear from friends or reading the most recent Tweets

from today’s most popular celebrities, social media is very relevant in today’s day and age.

Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are used every single day by

people from all walks of life whether it be the local grocery store clerk or the President of the

United States. These forms of mass communication work as a central location where both

professional and personal information can be shared with close friends and the public alike. The

posts of celebrities are the posts most often seen and criticized by the public (Ozguyen & Mucan,

2013). People look to celebrities for the newest information regarding nearly everything, from

fashion and music to politics and hot button topics. Celebrities are an important group of people

to review due to the strength and influence their words tend to have over their audience (Kern, et.

al., 2016). By gathering the captions of social media captions from celebrities and analyzing the

language and different wording used in the captions, data can be collected and interpreted for

trends. Analysis can be done to look for trends in concepts such as pronoun use, cognitive

mechanisms, personal concerns, negative emotion, and social processes (Park, et. al.,2014).

Social status is a large indicator as to the importance placed on social media content.

People who have high social status often have a more numerous follower count on social media

platforms, meaning that the posts shared often reach a larger audience than those who are

considered to be of lower social status (Kern, et. al., 2016). Celebrities are people who hold an

increased social status when compared to the everyday person who does not live a life in the

public eye. Celebrities often use their platforms to discuss topics which are important to them

and to share personal experiences (Westaby, Pfaff, & Redding, 2014). When people are said to
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have a higher social ranking, more people are likely to listen to and care about the information

they choose to discuss.

In an effort to investigate pronoun usage as a reflection of a person’s social ranking,

Kacewicz, Pennebaker, Davis, Jeon, and Graesser (2013) used the Linguistic Inquiry and Word

Count program in order to analyze differences in language use. The goal of this research was to

look at the difference in language used by people in leadership roles versus people taking on the

role of a follower. In the first study, people were told to take on the roles of a team. One person

was assigned to be the “leader” and the others were told they were the “subordinates.” The

participants were told to discuss solutions for a problem regarding customer service at a mock

store in which they were all staff of. The group discussions were recorded by video. The

language used by the people in this study was analyzed through the LIWC program and it was

determined that the people in leadership roles used pronouns such as I, we, you, she/he, and they

more frequently as opposed to the pronouns of it, anyone, and its which were used less

frequently. The use of words such as these suggests that people in leadership roles are more

“people” or “group” oriented. The results of this study are important in that understanding how

language used by leaders differs from those used by followers, an understanding may be gained

as to why some leaders are more successful than others as their use of language appeals to those

who are listening to what they have to say.

Language is a tool used by all humans (Pennebaker, 2013). Over time, everyone acquires

new words and builds on to their vocabulary. In the case of social media, people are using

language to share information they believe to be important with the world around them. The

choice of works used by people reveals more about a person than only the message they are
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portraying. A person’s choice of words reveals a lot of information about who they are as a

person, both socially and psychologically (Pennebaker, Matthias, & Niederhoffer, 2002).

People look to celebrities for inspiration when it comes to overcoming difficulties in life.

Some people choose to talk about their experiences positively, and some choose to talk about

experiences negatively. Depending on how the person coped with the experience after its

occurrence, word use in social media captions as well as other forms of writing becomes

impacted (Pennebaker & Graybeal, 2001). People are shaped by their experiences as they occur

in their lives. As humans grow and mature, they experience more and are able to use those

experiences to change shape their view of the world. Personality is an aspect of all human life

that changes over time and as personality changes, language choice and language use changes

with it (Pennebaker & Stone, 2003).

In an effort to investigate how language is used by individuals to relate and discuss an

experience which they have undergone, Pennebaker and Graybeal (2001), designed an

experiment with the intent of understanding the importance of specific wording used in personal

writing and how word choice impacts a person’s psychological state in terms of stability. In this

study, researchers gathered writing samples from diary entries of people from several different

backgrounds and analyzed them through the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC)

computer program in order to analyze the use of words which fell into different categories.

Pennebaker and Graybeal (2001) experienced use of words which fell under the categories of

emotional words, causal words, and cognitive words. The purpose of this study was to

understand how word choice allows for positive growth in the psychological state of an

individual over a period of time. Researchers found that people who wrote about their traumatic

experiences often showed improvement in mental health as time progressed. Pennebaker and
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Graybeal (2001) also found that people who were not willing to discuss their traumatic

experiences showed no improvement in mental health over the period of observation. The

observation of the lack of improvement is important in that journaling and writing could be used

in the future as a potential long-term tool for bettering patient health after having experienced a

traumatic event.

Along with the study performed by Pennebaker and Graybeal (2001), comes the

understanding of the importance of the different components examined by the LIWC. Language

of social processes is the understanding of how word choice reflects the user’s family, friends,

and humans (Newman, Groom, Handelman, & Pennebaker, 2008). Another important

component is the use of language focused on cognition. Language of cognition focuses on

discrepant language (should, could, would) and data shows that women tend to use this type of

language more so than men (Newman, Groom, Handelman, & Pennebaker, 2008). A third

component examined by the LIWC is pronoun usage. Pronouns are used to signal the user

themselves or someone they are discussing (I, you, she, he, etc.) (Newman, Groom, Handelman,

& Pennebaker, 2008).

Understanding the personality of people is also a key component in terms of their word

use. On social media platforms, people display traits such as neuroticism, modesty, and many

more (Park, et. al. 2014). Personality is something that is unique to a person as an individual. By

observing a person’s word choice on social media, word choice is able to be observed over a

span of time and a greater understanding as to how the personality of a person can be understood

through the way they talk.

To investigate how personality traits of social media users impacts social media use,

Ozguven and Mucan (2013) examined the relationship among the Big Five Inventory
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(Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness), a

life satisfaction scale, and a social media marketing activity scale, hypothesizing that there would

be a positive relationship between social media use and each of the Big-Five Inventory Traits.

Ozyguyen and Mucan (2013) found that participants who were more educated and had a higher

income used social media more frequently than those who were not as educated and made less

income. The results of this study show that people who displayed the traits of conscientiousness

and openness to experience displayed a higher use of social media. The other factors observed in

this experiment did not show relevant information. The findings of this study are important in

that they allow for an understanding as to who is most active on social media. Social media is a

tool used by much of society as a means of mass communication so it is important to understand

who is most actively present on these sites.

In sum, word choice is impacted by multiple factors surrounding a person’s life. People

who are considered to be of higher social status tend to use words that are more group oriented.

Personal experiences can also shape the word choices used by people and a person’s personality

can also be understood and observed by examining the choice of words they choose to use when

speaking out loud in a discussion as well as when they write. The purpose is to examine how sex

and social status impact the words used by celebrities in Instagram captions. The hypothesis of

this study is that men of low status will use more first-person pronouns than others of high status.

Another hypothesis of this study is that men would use more negative emotion related language

than women would on social media.

Method

Design
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A list consisting of the “Most Powerful Celebrities with Highest Social Ranking” was

obtained from www.ranker.com. The original list consisted of 100 celebrities, but people and

groups who did not have Instagram accounts were removed from the list. (All celebrities were

under the condition of status (high or low) and under the condition of sex (male or female)). The

celebrities were arranged into groups following a 2 x 2 between subjects design in which they

were placed into one of four groups (high status women, low status women, high status men, low

status men). The distinction between high and low status was made by performing a median split

of the number of followers each of the celebrities had.

Dependent Measures

Instagram captions were taken and recorded from each of the celebrities. The Instagram

captions were recorded and analyzed through the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC)

program and analyzed. 947 total Instagram captions were gathered from the samples. From the

LIWC, the results for the following categories were analyzed: Person pronouns, positive and

negative emotion, cognitive mechanisms, social processes, and personal concerns. Under person

pronouns, first person singular, first person pleural, second person, third person singular, and

third person pleural words were analyzed. Under positive and negative emotions, anxiety,

sadness, and anger words were analyzed. Under cognitive mechanisms, insight, causation,

discrepancy, tentative and certainty words were analyzed. Under social processes, family,

friends, and human words were analyzed. Under personal concerns, work, achievement, leisure,

and home.

Procedure

The list of “Most Powerful Celebrities with Highest Social Ranking” was taken from

ranker.com. The members of the list who were either listed as groups, such as bands, were
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removed from the list. Participants who did not have Instagram accounts were also removed

from the list. My partners and I recorded the number of followers had by each of the remaining

participants on the list. The number of followers was used to classify the celebrity as either high

or low status. My partners and I then collected the Instagram captions from each of the

celebrities from the date of August 14, 2018 until September 28, 2018. Each individual caption

was copied and pasted into an individual word document and was labeled according to

participant sex, status, and the number of caption. Three people combined the gathered captions

into one place where all of the captions were then entered into and analyzed by the Linguistic

Inquiry and Word Count program. The results from the LIWC analysis were entered into another

single document. The data gathered from the LIWC was then analyzed through the Statistical

Package for Social Sciences program.

Results

Overview

Because of the large number of celebrities involved in this study (42 celebrities),

celebrity subjects were divided into two groups based on a median split of the number of

followers had by the verified Instagram account. The grouping was used as a two-level factor, to

form a 2 x 2 (Sex x Social Status). Each dependent measure was then entered into a MANOVA.

Pronoun Usage

In order to test the hypothesis that men of low social status use more first-person

pronouns than others of high social status, an analysis of variance (ANOVA) was calculated on

the effect of sex on the personal concern for achievement. The means and CIs from this analysis

are located in Figure 1. The analysis was significant F(3, 941) = 8.05, MSE = 22.25, p < .001, hp2

= .013. Post hoc Scheffe tests demonstrated that achievement discussion by high status men (M =
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3.86, SD = 6.28) was greater than achievement discussion by low status men (M = 2.27, SD =

4.64) p ≤ .001. The analysis also showed there that men talked more about work than women (M

= 2.00, SD = 4.58) on social media.

In order to examine the effect of sex and social status on personal pronoun use, a 2 x 2

(Sex x Status) Univariate Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) was calculated with “I” as the

dependent measure. The analysis produced a non-significant effect of the interaction between sex

and social status. A main effect was produced for sex, F(3, 941) = 5.10, p = .024, hp2 =.005. A

significant effect was produced for social status, F(3,941) = 7.18, p = .007, hp2 =.008. The means

and standard deviations can be seen in Table 1.

Personal Concerns

In order to examine the effect of sex and social status on personal concerns, a 2 x 2 (Sex

x Social Status) Multivariate Analysis of Variance (MANOVA) was calculated with four

personal concerns as dependent measures. The analysis produced a non-significant effect for

social status F(1,943) = 0.59. A significant effect for sex was produced F(3, 941) = 6.45, p < 1,

hp2 =.027. These are Univariates done after the initial analysis. A significant effect resulted for

the dependent measure of work, F(3, 941) = 10.13, p < 1, hp2 = .011, and leisure, F(1, 941) =

9.76, p = .002, hp2 = .003. A significant effect resulted for the dependent measure of

achievement, F(3, 941) = 15.33, p < 1, hp2 =.016. Men discussed achievement more so than

women (M = 2.10, SD = 3.99). A significant effect for the social status by sex interaction was

produced, F(3, 941) = 3.16, p = .014, hp2 =.013 meaning that men of high social status talked the

most about achievement. The means and standard deviations of this analysis can be seen in Table

1.

Cognitive Mechanisms
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In order to examine the effect of sex and social status on cognitive mechanisms, a 2 x 2

(Sex x Social Status) Multivariate Analysis of Variance (MANOVA) was calculated with the

five cognitive mechanisms as dependent measures. The means and standard deviations of this

analysis can be seen in Table 1. This analysis produced a non-significant effect for social status

F(3, 941) = 3.00 and the social status by sex interaction F(3, 941) = 1.79. A significant effect for

sex was produced, F(3, 941) = 3.00, MSE = 32.19, p = .001, hp2 = 0.02. The Univariates of

cognitive mechanisms were insight, cause, discrepancy, tentative, and certainty. Women used

discrepant language more than men (M = 0.66, SD = 2.07).

Negative Emotion

In order to examine the effect of sex and social status on negative emotion, a 2 x 2 (Sex x

Social Status) Multivariate Analysis of Variance (MANOVA) was calculated with three negative

emotions as dependent measures (Anger, Anxiety, and Sadness). The means and standard

deviations of this analysis can be seen in Table 1. The analysis produced a non-significant effect

for social status F(3, 941) < 1 and the interaction between sex and social status F(3, 941) <1

meaning that social status did not impact the use of angry language. A significant effect was

produced for sex, F(3, 941) = 2.91, p = .033. Men used more angry language than women (M =

0.57, SD = 3.26) on social media F(1,943) = 7.75, p = .005, , hp2 = .008.

Social Processes

In order to examine the effect of sex and social status on social processes, a 2 x 2 (Sex x

Social Status) Multivariate Analysis of Variance (MANOVA) was calculated with three social

processes as dependent measures (Family, Friends, and Humans). The means and standard

deviations of this analysis can be seen in Table 1. The analysis produced a non-significant effect

for social status, F(1,943) = 1.89, p = .130, hp2 =.006. A non-significant effect was produced for
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sex, F(1,943) = 1.99, p = .115, hp2 =.006. The analysis produced a non-significant interaction

between social status and sex, F(3, 941) <1, p = .521, hp2 =.002. The analyses showed that

celebrities did not differ in talking about social processes such as friends, family, or humans.

Discussion

The results of this study showed multiple findings. This study found that men used more

angry language than women. The use of anger was not impacted by the celebrity’s social status,

only their sex. Also found by this study was that people of high status used the word “I” more

than their low status counterparts. Celebrity sex did not impact the use of “I.” Another interesting

finding of this study was that women used discrepant language more than men on social media.

This study also found that men discuss work more on social media than women do and also talk

more so about leisure on social media than women do. A final finding of this study is that there

were no differing findings in terms of talk of family, friends, and humans by either men or

women. These results of this experiment confirmed the hypothesis that men would use more

negative emotion related language than women on social media.

The data from this study reflected similar results to that of a study performed by

Bamman, Eisenstein, and Schnoebelen (2014) in that there was in fact a difference in language

use depending on the sex of the person being observed. In this study, Instagram captions were

gathered and analyzed for differing types of affect language. One of the topics of this experiment

was to examine the use of words related to negative emotions. The negative emotion areas

specifically examined in this study were anger, anxiety and sadness. The results of this study

found that men used more angry language on social media than women. This does not come as a

surprise, as men are seen as more aggressive in general (Newman, Groom, Handelman, &
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Pennebaker, (2008). In this study, social status of the celebrity did not impact the use of language

tied to negative emotions.

The data collected in this experiment showed that there was an increased use in the

personal pronoun “I” by people who are of high social status. There was not an impact of sex on

the use of this personal pronoun. Our findings in this study differ from what we anticipated and

from what has been found by previous studies before. Kern, et. al., (2014) found that people who

are considered to be of low social status tend to use the word “I” more frequently than their high-

status counterparts. Previous research has shown that people of low status, specifically women,

use “I” more frequently than men (Kern, et. al., 2014). The reason behind using this type of

language is that pronouns are said to show what a person is focusing on, also people tend to

become more self-conscious during times of social or financial suffering (Kacewicz, Pennebaker,

Davis, Jeon, & Graesser, 2009). This being said, it would make more sense for the findings to

have found that the celebrities who possessed fewer followers and were considered to be of

lower social status to be the frequent users of “I” but it was interesting to find that the exact

opposite held true in this experiment.

Another portion of the results from this study examined the use of discrepant language.

Discrepant language includes words such as “could, should, or would.” Discrepant language has

been shown to be used more times by women than by men. Women use this type of language

more because they are frequently interrupted by the people they are speaking to and are also

more likely to try and speak to appease the audience whom they are addressing (Pennebaker, &

King, 1999). Our study found that women did use discrepant language more than men did.

Through our Instagram caption collection and analysis, it was found that women did use this type
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of language more than men did, but the usage was not influenced by the level of social status had

by the women.

The fourth set of findings from the results of this study examine the use of language in

regard to personal concerns. Personal concerns language includes words that discuss topics such

as work, achievement, leisure, and home (Pennebaker, Mehl, & Niederhoffer, 2002). Previous

research has found that men with higher social status tend to talk more about their work and

achievements than those men who have a lower social status or women of either social status

(Hirsh & Peterson, 2009). The data from our study is comparable to the data found by others in

that we found that overall, men talk more about their achievements than women do. Also found

in this study is that, as was found by Hirsh and Peterson (2009), men of high status spoke about

their achievement the most. This data resembles the findings of studies done before it also in the

aspect of leisure discussion. Our study found that men discussed leisure activities more than

women through their Instagram captions.

One of the more interesting findings of this study is that we did not find any differences

in the use of social language. The social language topics that were analyzed through this study

were language regarding family, friends, and humans. Social media platforms are used by people

to discuss mainly those three topics (family, friends, and humans) so it was strange for use to not

find any results reflecting an influence of celebrity sex or social status on these factors. A

possible reason behind this is that celebrities use social media differently than most non-celebrity

people. Celebrities use social media as a place to promote themselves as well as the causes they

feel are important. Celebrities may choose to use their social media accounts only for the purpose

of work and may choose to keep their private lives just that, private.
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In terms of what these results mean for people, the findings showed a great deal of

similarities as to what we expected to find. Instagram captions were used by the celebrities in

this study in ways that are, for the most part, similar to how non-celebrity people use social

media, with a few varying results. Celebrities are humans and they use language to communicate

with the world around them just as it is used by anyone else.

A possible critique of the methods of this study would be the list from which we acquired

the celebrities to be used as data points. The list is from the year 2010, so some of the celebrities

within the list are no longer socially active and in the public eye. Many of the celebrities on the

list were older in age and did not have Instagram accounts, so those people had to be removed

from the list. A great deal of the names on the list had to be removed from the study, as there was

no data to be collected for that person.

The results of this experiment have shown to be concurrent with the results of similar

studies that were performed in the past, with the exception of a few interesting findings along the

way. The results showed that there are differences in the way men and women use language. The

results also showed that, in some cases, the social status of a person does influence the way they

use language as well. This is interesting due to how celebrities are viewed by the rest of the

world. Their thoughts and words are seen and heard by thousands, if not millions of people all

around the world on a daily basis. The words used by these celebrities can be very influential to

the people who are following them, so it is interesting to view how different factors influence

just how they choose to speak and broadcast their thoughts and feelings to the world around

them.
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Table 1

Means and Standard Deviations of Sex and Social Status on Cognitive Mechanisms, Social

Processes, Negative Emotion, Personal Concerns and Personal Pronouns

Celebrity Sex

Men Women

Celebrity Status

Low High Total Low High Total

(n = 451) (n = 331) (n = 782) (n = 496) (n = 616) (n = 1112)

Cognitive Mechanisms

Insight 0.95 1.55 1.33 1.72 1.41 1.52

(2.17) (3.52) (3.11) (3.74) (2.88) (3.20)

Cause 0.35 0.95 0.73 0.81 1.21 1.08

(1.31) (3.05) (2.57) (2.12) (3.72) (3.28)

Discrepancy 0.30 0.36 0.34 0.83 0.57 0.66a

(1.22) (1.35) (1.30) (0.57) (2.00) (2.07)

Tentative 1.66 0.62 0.82 1.27 1.17 1.20

(2.98) (2.54) (2.72) (2.73) (3.04) (2.94)

Certainty 1.23 1.31 1.28 1.25 1.42 1.36

(2.76) (3.44) (3.21) (3.39) (3.11) (3.20)


THE EFFECT OF SOCIAL STATUS 20

Table 1 Continued

Means and Standard Deviations of Sex and Social Status on Cognitive Mechanisms, Social

Processes, Negative Emotion, Personal Concerns and Personal Pronouns

Social Processes

Family 0.52 1.03 0.84 0.41 0.49 0.46

(1.95) (3.42) (2.98) (1.49) (2.29) (2.05)

Friend 0.40 0.74 0.64 0.34 0.22 0.26

(1.59) (1.47) (1.51) (1.72) (1.43) (1.53)

Human 0.81 0.71 0.93 0.81 0.71 0.75

(2.73) (2.84) (2.80) (1.85) (2.25) (2.12)

Personal Concerns

Work 1.98 2.00 2.00a 1.36 0.98 1.11

(5.02) (4.32) (4.58) (3.26) (3.56) (2.88)

Achievement 2.27 3.86a 3.28 1.93 1.69 1.77

(4.64) (6.28) (5.79) (3.22) (3.67) (3.53)

Leisure 3.60 2.87 3.14a 1.81 2.37 2.19

(6.24) (6.53) (6.43) (3.83) (4.31) (4.16)

Home 0.59 0.43 0.49 0.29 0.52 0.44

(3.05) (2.11) (2.49) (1.10) (2.65) (2.26)


THE EFFECT OF SOCIAL STATUS 21

Table 1 Continued

Means and Standard Deviations of Sex and Social Status on Cognitive Mechanisms, Social

Processes, Negative Emotion, Personal Concerns and Personal Pronouns

Negative Emotion

Anxiety 0.21 0.08 0.13 0.15 0.15 0.16

(1.79) (0.64) (1.19) (0.72) (1.40) (1.21)

Anger 0.40 0.67 0.13a 0.56 0.13 0.11

(2.23) (3.73) (3.26) (0.34) (0.81) (0.69)

Sadness 0.14 0.27 0.32 0.34 0.31 0.32

(0.75) (2.37) (1.94) (1.56) (1.64) (1.61)

Note. Means with subscripts differ significantly, p < .05