related behaviors (e.g., alcohol and cigarette use), and other out-comes (class performance, attitudes).Of course, any approach to studying language is fraught withlimitations (Pennebaker, Mehl, & Niederhoffer, 2003). The word-count approach cannot consider irony or sarcasm, nor does itconsider context. Although context can be important for manystudies of communication, such as in-group/out-group status, wordcount alone
irrespective of content
can capture important psy-chological and physiological consequences of linguistic choices. Ina study of linguistic predictors of adjustment to bereavement,Pennebaker et al. (1997) analyzed interviews with gay men whohad recently lost their partners to AIDS. Higher use of positiveemotion words relative to negative emotion words was associatedwith maximal health benefits, whether the participants were say-ing, for example,
To say that one is
appears to produce different health outcomes than to saythat one is
Although context may be important in determin-ing exactly what a speaker means by the words he or she chooses,the act of choosing a particular word over its many synonyms canbe telling on its own.Given that word use is a reliable individual style, we can beginto assess how it changes over the life span. In recent years,personality and aging researchers have begun to report that peo-ple
s self-reports of who they are gradually evolve as they getolder (cf. Robins, Trzesniewski, Tracy, Gosling, & Potter, 2002).Much of this research has focused on people
s levels of bothpositive and negative affect. Other work has branched into relatedareas of life such as people
s changing social connections, timeorientation, and cognitive abilities. These areas of change may becharacterized by particular linguistic changes as well.
Although it is beyond the scope of this article to review theenormous literature on age-related changes, there are particularareas of change across the life span that lend themselves tolinguistic examination. Beginning with a brief description of ste-reotypes about aging, we discuss four important areas of age-related change: emotional experience and expression, identity andsocial relationships, time orientation, and cognitive abilities.A variety of stereotypes exist about older individuals, includinga set of negative characteristics such as lonely, selfish, sentimental,stubborn, withdrawn, rigid, bitter, and alone (Brewer, Dull, & Lui,1981; Louis Harris and Associates, 1975; McTavish, 1971; Perdue& Gurtman, 1990), as well as the view that people undergo anoticeable decline in intellectual abilities as they age (Cornelius &Caspi, 1986; Ryan, 1992). Interestingly, most data contradict thisdiminished and unhappy view of aging people. For example, agingis associated with higher levels of conscientiousness, agreeable-ness, and adherence to norms (Helson, Kwan, John, & Jones2002). Comparable findings using the Big Five measures of Ex-traversion and Neuroticism have been reported by Loehlin andMartin (2001) using adult samples of over 5,000 twin pairs fromthe Australian Twin Registry (see also the research of McCrae &Costa, 1990; McCrae et al., 1999).It is also true that there exist positive stereotypes of aging, evenin the youth-oriented culture of the United States. Older adults arestereotypically seen as gaining in wisdom and common sense(Hendrick, Knox, Gekoski, & Dyne, 1988), which is reflected inthe definition used by Staudinger, Smith, and Baltes (1992) of
good judgment and advice about important but uncer-tain matters of life
(p. 271). Wisdom is purported to come withage, accumulating in the middle and later years of life and basedon experience, understanding of the variabilities of life, exposureto different contexts, and grasping the basic issues of life (Baltes& Smith, 1990; Clayton & Birren, 1980; Holliday & Chandler,1986; Ryff, 1984). Although the theoretical definitions of wisdomdiffer between studies and researchers, the findings have beenrelatively consistent: Older individuals up to age 80 display greateror at least the same levels of wisdom as younger individuals(Smith & Baltes, 1990; Staudinger et al., 1992).
Positive and Negative Affect
In contrast to the stereotype that elderly people are bitter andunhappy, many researchers are discovering that aging does notproduce decrements in positive emotions. Carstensen, Pasupathi,Mayr, and Nesselroade (2000) found no effect of age on positiveemotional experiences in their sample of people ages 18
94.Furthermore, aging has been associated with increased experienceof happiness (Carstensen, 1991, 1995; Carstensen & Turk-Charles,1994; Labouvie-Vief & Blanchard-Fields, 1982; Mroczek & Ko-larz, 1998). Several explanations for these findings have beenoffered. According to Carstensen
s (1995) theory of socioemo-tional selectivity, as people grow older affect becomes more im-portant in their lives, and they also become better able to regulatetheir emotions. A related explanation is that aging can reorganizethe roles of affect and cognition and that this process of restruc-turing allows for greater cohesion, which produces better regula-tion of emotion (Labouvie-Vief & Blanchard-Fields, 1982). Theoutcome of this improved emotional regulation is a maximizationof positive affect and minimization of negative affect.There have been mixed findings on the experience of negativeemotions across the life span. Using an experience-sampling strat-egy, Carstensen et al. (2000) discovered a curvilinear relationshipbetween negative emotions and age, such that self-reported nega-tive emotions drop across the life span until the age of 60 at whichpoint they either remain constant or increase (depending on theanalysis). Using Bradburn
s (1969) Affect Balance Scale, Charles,Reynolds, and Gatz (2001) reported that negative affect declinedacross the life span, whereas positive affect was stable throughmiddle age and evidenced a slight decline among older individuals.The picture that emerges of people
s self-reports of their emo-tional development across the life span is one of an ever morecomplex and richly differentiated emotional life, characterized bydecreasing levels of negative affect and steady or slightly increas-ing levels of positive affect. Additionally, aging is associated withbetter emotional regulation. Although the self-reports of emotionand aging paint a very different picture than aging stereotypes, ananalysis of the ways individuals use emotion-related words overthe life span can provide additional information about emotionalexperience that go beyond people
s self-perceptions of emotionalexperience.
Social Relationships and Self
Closely related to issues of emotionality, a number of studieshave focused on developmental trends in social relationships and
PENNEBAKER AND STONE