A new study has found a surprising link between the use of, you know, filler words and thoughtfulness.
Counter to the, like, stereotypes popularized by movies such as "Clueless," the study shows that people whose speech is filled with the words "I mean," "you know," and "like" may not be "Valley Girl"-style airheads after all.
In fact, they tend to be more conscientious than their plain-talking counterparts, researchers from the University of Texas found.
The words and brief phrases, known as "discourse markers," are a subset of filler words (often used to fill conversational pauses) that researchers have linked to "purposeful signals to a listener." Other filler words, like "uh" and "um," are used more to fill pauses in the conversation, and thus aren't considered "discourse markers."
The researchers based their finding on a statistical analysis of transcripts of more than 250 everyday conversations, recorded over the course of participants' daily lives for 2 to 3 days. The speakers' genders, ages, and personalities were all considered. Perhaps not surprisingly, individuals who made frequent use of discourse markers were more likely to be young and female as well as more conscientious.
Even then, "after we controlled the effect of gender and age, we still saw the effect between conscientiousness and discourse markers," study co-author Yi-Tai Seih, a postdoctoral research associate at the university, told HuffPost Science in an email.
"This finding indicates that a certain type of people prefer to use more discourse markers, regardless of their gender or age," Seih said. For example, "if we see two young girls at the same or similar age, [but] one uses more discourse markers than [the other], then we could conclude that the one who uses more discourse makers is relatively more conscientious."
But what explains the greater level of conscientious in these individuals? As the researchers wrote in a paper describing their study:
The possible explanation for this association is that conscientious people are generally more thoughtful and aware of themselves and their surroundings. When having conversations with listeners, conscientious people use discourse markers, such as ‘I mean’ and ‘you know,’ to imply their desire to share or rephrase opinions to recipients. Thus it is expected that the use of discourse markers may be used to measure the degree to which people have thoughts to express.
"Stated slightly differently, discourse fillers are a sign of more considered speech, and so it makes sense that conscientious people use them more often," Christian Jarrett, a cognitive neuroscientist who was not involved with the study, wrote in a blog for the British Psychological Society.
Or as New York Magazine put it, "Conscientious people are careful, diligent individuals who are very concerned with doing things correctly — including, apparently, idle chitchat."