The Quantified Valentine: The Science Behind the Language of Love

Last Valentine’s Day we asked 100 people to identify their favorite way of saying “I love you.” We then analyzed the linguistic components of the best responses to see if there were patterns in the language of love.

So, what was the best way to say “I love you”? The winning response was “You’re my soul mate and the love of my life.” Why? Because this phrasing includes many of the essential linguistic factors that make an expression of love so powerful. It is formed in the present tense, for example, and doesn’t include any unnecessary explanatory words like “because”. Simple, direct, and present works best. (You can find a detailed description of our approach and our results here.)

Even a well-formed phrase like this can be improved upon, however. Our research at Quantified Communications validates the fundamental truth of the old adage, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it.” In fact, our communication analytics reveal that the sound and quality of a person’s voice accounts for 23% of the receiver’s interpretation of the message, whereas the words actually spoken account for only 11%. The words “You’re my soul mate and the love of my life” will be even more powerful, then, if the sender sounds confident and looks the receiver in the eye.

Scientists at Albright College extended this conclusion in a recent study. Researchers found that not only do we change our voices when talking to our significant other, but that these changes are easily detected by third parties. Furthermore, they found that men and women vary the pitch of their voices to more closely match that of their significant other. That is, women tend to lower their pitch and men tend to speak at a higher pitch. If you’ve ever been the third wheel on a date, you know exactly what this sounds like.

This result is consistent with research on “brain coupling,” something we discussed in a previous post. Brain coupling refers to behaviors where two people subconsciously align the way they speak with each other, including the grammatical forms they use and their choice of words. In fact, lovers can be perfect models of brain coupling. Have you ever heard people in love describe a unique connection with their partner, where they seem to know what the other is thinking? Or how they can complete each other’s sentences? Dr. Uri Hasson, the lead researcher in a Princeton University article on brain coupling, describes this as “just two tightly coupled brains communicating well.”

So, what does all of this mean for February 14th? The science says that if you really want your partner to know how you feel, skip the Hallmark card. Communicate it simply, sincerely . . . and out loud!