…the most commonly used word in spoken English, “I,” is used at far higher rates by followers than by leaders …
—From The Secret Life of Pronouns by James Pennebaker
James Pennebaker, a psychologist, linguist, and author from the University of Texas at Austin, presented an analysis of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s tweets at this year’s American Psychological Association conference.
The question of which of the two brothers allegedly planned the attack has haunted the Boston Bombing case. The recent Rolling Stone feature story about Dzhokhar portrays him as a lost young man, adrift between two cultural worlds. Tamerlan, on the other hand, is shown as an increasingly militant and conservative fundamentalist who had incredible influence over his younger brother.
Pennebaker is not very convinced by that telling of the story. The psychologist has dedicated much of his academic career to understand how a person’s use of pronouns reflects his or her innermost thoughts. He recently published a book on the subject, and did a TedxTalk earlier this year, which you can watch below.
Business Insider is reporting that Pennebaker’s presentation shows every time the use of the word “I” or variations of it were used in Dzhokhar’s tweets. The use of the word drastically drops off in October 2012, and Pennebaker argues that this behavior is indicative of someone who has “made a personal conviction to carry out violent actions.”
Pennebaker’s book also points out, in the quote at the top of the page, that leaders avoid using the word “I,” just as Dzhokhar did in the months leading up to the bombing. Pennebaker’s study is just preliminary at this stage and has not been peer reviewed.
Here are some tweets from Dzhokhar before October, 2012:
just looked at some baby pics, i used to be a ginger, then my mom shaved my head and out came the brunette #thanksmom
— Jahar (@J_tsar) July 31, 2012
i've been on this train since 6am i'm growing restless #3morehours
— Jahar (@J_tsar) July 21, 2012
my moms tryina arrange a marriage for me aha she needs to #chillout i'll find my own honey
— Jahar (@J_tsar) July 13, 2012
Here are some tweets from after October, 2012
Nowadays everybody wanna talk like they got somethin to say but nothin comes out when they move their lips; just a bunch of gibberish
— Jahar (@J_tsar) April 17, 2013
Most of you are conditioned by the media
— Jahar (@J_tsar) April 11, 2013
People come into your life to help you, hurt you, love you and leave you and that shapes your character and the person you were meant to be
— Jahar (@J_tsar) March 18, 2013
Tsarnaev’s twitter acount is still up, although he has not tweeted since April 17, two days after the Boston Marathon Bombing. The slow transformation in his tweets, from rap lyrics to retweets of radical Islamic clerics, has been the subject of many stories on the 19-year-old.
He is currently in prison awaiting trial on a 30-count indictment.