A Window on The Soul

Spotting Snakes by their Speech Patterns


It’s currently difficult for online dating sites to spot applications from potentially toxic individuals in advance.  At present, admins and moderators wait until a member reports abuse by another member.  Then the offender gets ‘ghosted,’ i.e. their details will be hidden in searches.
The troublemaker thinks they’re still on the site, but no one else can see them.  When they get no ‘likes’ they eventually lose interest and go away.

A Telling Study of Online Profiles

Psychologists Mike Woodworth and Steve Porter noticed manipulative language patterns in narcissistic individuals, prior to them being accepted as members of an online dating club.

This ability to proactively assess language for tell-tale characteristics of deception will be of great benefit to dating agencies and their members.

Being emotionally barren, narcissistic individuals are liable to abuse a romantic relationship.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t deter them from seeking liaisons to satisfy their need for supply.

The words of narcissists reveal a predatory nature behind their mask

Mike Woodworth points out:

Narcissistic individuals have a prodigious ability to micromanage the way they present themselves.  There’s an almost chameleon like level of vivid awareness of how they appear to others, so it’s tough trying to assess them face-to-face.  Being able to sit back and analyse their speech is a good way to identify patterns of manipulation and distortion.”

Describing their ground-breaking research, Woodworth explains:

Narcissists focus on the lower needs of Maslow's hierarchy of needs
Designed by macrovector / Freepik

The narcissist’s world view is instrumental in style, that is to say their thinking focusses on functional needs.  This pattern is evident in their speech.  They talk more about material things, what they are going to do, what they will eat and drink and less about love, family, evil, God etc. – i.e. they concentrate on the lower level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  Ideas and emotions are only voiced in reaction.

Food and physical wants are at the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and literature suggests that Narcissists are much more focused on this lower level.  They are really unconcerned with self-actualisation.  They have a grandiose view of themselves as being the epitome of perfection already, so intimacy and self-actualisation are superfluous.”

The assessment of words from self-narratives using automated analyses might be an accurate and reliable screening tool for identifying narcissistic individuals.

Words can be a window on the soul, and computers are learning to peer through that window. A study by Cornell university showed that computer analyses can identify the speech patterns that psychopaths tend to use.

Psychopaths are inclined to make identifiable word choices when talking about their crimes, the study finds. Their words reflect their personalities, showing selfishness, detachment from their crimes and emotional flatness, report Jeff Hancock, Cornell professor of communication, and colleagues at the University of British Columbia reported Sept. 11 in the online edition of the journal Legal and Criminological Psychology.  Hancock said:

“Our paper is the first to show that you can use automated tools to detect the distinct speech patterns of psychopaths.”

Words are a window on the narcissist's soul
Assessment of words from self-narratives might help identify narcissists in advance.

A psychopath, as described by psychologists, is emotionally flat, lacks empathy for the feelings of others, and is free of remorse. Psychopaths behave as if the world is to be used for their benefit, and they employ deception and feigned emotion to manipulate others.

The words of the experimental subjects matched these descriptions. Psychopaths used more conjunctions like “because,” “since” or “so that,” implying that the crime “had to be done” to obtain a particular goal. They used twice as many words relating to physical needs, such as food, sex or money, while non-psychopaths used more words about social needs, including family, religion and spirituality.

Study co-author Michael Woodworth, associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, prefaced the title of the paper with “Hungry Like the Wolf” to reflect the fact that psychopaths are predators and that their stories often included details of what they had to eat on the day of their crime.

Psychopaths were more likely to use the past tense, suggesting a detachment from their crimes. They tended to be less fluent in their speech, using more “ums” and “uhs.”  The exact reason for this is not clear, but the researchers speculate that the psychopath is trying harder to make a positive impression and needs to use more mental effort to frame the story.  The researchers concluded:

“The psychopath’s world view is fundamentally different from the rest of the human species.” 

The above details were extracted from an article  by Bill Steele that appeared in Cornell Chronicle on 17th October, 2011

The Bottom Line

Narcissists are thought to represent 1% of the population. We learn to avoid them in real life.

We rarely meet p
eople exhibiting the above traits in real life.  These snake-cool actors are thought to represent just 1% of the population, and we learn to avoid them.  We mix with friends having common interests from an early age.  Kids in the school playground, for instance, watch bullies congregate, see how they behave, and stay clear.

On the internet bullies connect snakily, and without restraint.

On a first encounter, cool actors may appear charming and charismatic.  That’s why many abuse victims fail to recognise narcissistic behaviour for what it is.  Scrutinising patterns of speech could help identify traits of manipulation and distortion that are evident early on.  We hope these ideas assist in recognising snake-cool actors so you connect with warm people.  Matt Haig writes: “Life is warmth.  You’ll be cool when you’re dead.”

Copyright © 2022.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy & Ethics Policies

Contact the author here, or share with your friends: 


Personal accounts are transcribed verbatim from the author’s case history of real-life interactions.  The behaviours described are individual and distinctive and may not be transferrable to other settings.

Edit Template