Dating And The Lexical Hypothesis

Who knew there could be so many compatibility clues hidden in the way someone writes an online dating profile? We spoke with Dr. Helen Fisher to learn how word choice relates to personality type.

By Dave Singleton

ark my words: if you want to meet your match, make sure you evaluate your vocabulary choices carefully before using them. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about this — word choice really matters, according to Dr. Helen Fisher, Chief Scientific Advisor for

Her new research sheds light on the biological implications of the famed Lexical Hypothesis, which had scientists back in the 1930s buzzing about how
I've absolutely found that there's a reason words matter.
certain individual differences that are most salient and socially relevant in people's lives will eventually become encoded into their language. And the more important that difference happens to be, the more likely is it to become expressed as a single word. "The Lexical Hypothesis simply implies that we end up using words that reflect who we really are," says Dr. Fisher, whose most recent book, Why We Love, furthers her ongoing investigation of genetics and neurochemistry. "In my new study of 178,532 men and women, I've absolutely found that there's a reason words matter. The words you choose are reflective of who you really are," Dr. Fisher says. "And the words reflect biology, which in turn makes you gravitate toward certain words."

As part of her research, Dr. Fisher coined four distinct personality types to reflect the fact that "people fall into broad styles of thinking and behaving that come out of our biology and our genetics." Here's a breakdown of each type, how it relates to an individual's brain chemistry and corresponding personality traits:
  1. Explorer (more dopamine expression) — risk-taking, curious, creative, impulsive, optimistic and energetic.
  2. Builder (more serotonin expression) — cautious but not fearful, calm, traditional, community-oriented, persistent and loyal.
  3. Director (more testosterone expression) — very analytical, decisive and tough-minded; likes to debate and can be aggressive.
  4. Negotiator (more estrogen expression) — broad-minded, imaginative, compassionate, intuitive, verbal, nurturing, altruistic and idealistic.
Dr. Fisher then chose 170 common words that people might use to describe themselves and the qualities they were searching for in a romantic partner (and that her four personality types would also find particularly attractive)."I thought to myself, wouldn't it be interesting to see how the various broad personalities express themselves," she says. "Sure enough, the Explorer uses words in a different way than the Builder does. There are very dramatic and very statistically significant differences among all four types. All of them used the kind of words that you would expect. For instance, two of the top words used by an Explorer are 'adventure' and 'spontaneity.'"

So, what does this mean for daters — many of whom complain that the words they're using to search for Mr. or Ms. Right haven't been very effective? Based on Dr. Fisher's research, you can now make sure that your own word choices sync up with your real-life preferences when it comes to finding a mate. To improve your dating life, simply pay more attention to your own word choices and the words used by potential dates. Here are five steps to get you started:

1. Review the four types (Explorer, Builder, Director, and Negotiator) to see which one you identify with the most.
"Sometimes, we don't know how we come across," Dr. Fisher says. "It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes: 'We struggle all our lives to understand a few basic things about ourselves that the most casual passerby could tell us in a moment.'" To find
It's not just the content of what you're saying.
out which type suits you best, take Dr. Fisher's personality assessment online at, where you'll also get recommendations for your match's personality type. For even more information, read her book, Why Him? Why Her? How to Find and Keep Lasting Love, where she explains in greater depth why some opposites attract (and some don't!) based on type. The book also delves into some potential conflicts you should look out for when paired with someone from each of the various cross-sections.

2. Understand the word choices that fit your particular type.
It's not just the content of what you're saying; it's the words you use to describe that content, too, so you need to understand how the four types will describe something differently. Using the example of "taking long walks on the beach" (a common interest daters mention in their profiles), note how each type might describe it differently:
  • Explorer: It's fun to take a long walk on the beach.
  • Builder: I value long walks on the beach.
  • Negotiator: I'm passionate about long walks on the beach.
  • Director: One of my ambitions is to take more long walks on the beach.
Then, learn the top 10 words (and word combinations) that are used most by each type.

1. Adventure
2. Venture
3. Spontaneity/spontaneous
4. Energy
5. New
6. Fun
7. Traveling
8. Outgoing
9. Passion
10. Active

1. Family
2. Honesty
3. Caring
4. Moral/morals
5. Respect
6. Loyal
7. Trust
8. Value/values
9. Loving
10. Trustworthy

1. Intelligent/intelligence
2. Intellectual
3. Debate
4. Geek
5. Nerd/nerdy
6. Ambition
7. Driven
8. Politics
9. Challenging
10. Real

1. Passion/passionate
2. Real
3. Heart
4. Kind/kindness
5. Sensitive
6. Sweet
7. Read/reader
8. Learning/learn
9. Random
10. Empathy/empathetic

3. Trust that you will automatically use the right words in describing yourself.
We're all told to question how we write our profiles, so we use the best current buzzwords and other "hot" words that will make us seem desirable. But according to Dr. Fisher, maybe daters should simply relax and trust that they will describe themselves just fine. "You are naturally going to use the words that reflect who you really are," she explains. Isn't it nice to know you can stop stressing so much about the words you used in writing your profile?

4. Make sure you pay attention to the content in your profile, not just the words you used.
"You can learn to write a better profile by understanding that most people like details and avoiding clichés," says Dr. Fisher. "Content is up to you, and you should pay attention to it and be clear in what you're describing." For example, don't just say that you like long walks on the beach — everyone likes those. Add more detail: What words come to mind? And which beaches do you like best? Do you have a favorite?

5. Compare the words your date uses in his or her profile to Dr. Fisher's top 10 word lists.
As you review prospective dates' written profiles, note any words that are preferred by the type you think you're best suited to date that you happen to find. Compare the wording found in those profiles with Dr. Fisher's lists, because they are significantly correlated with these personality styles. While there's no guaranteed perfect match based on just connecting the dots between your respective word choices, there are relationship-related pros and cons to each type. For example, "Explorers are delightfully curious, but maybe more reckless — and they tend to look out, not in," says Dr. Fisher. And she can see clear-cut cases that are perfect examples of what happens when opposites (vs. similarities) attract. "Similarities attract in the case of Builders and Explorers. Opposites attract for Negotiators and Directors. As it turns out, Explorers tend to be drawn to people like themselves. They want somebody who's energetic and enthusiastic, adventurous, curious and creative. The Builders — who are traditional, cautious, and into their families — go for people [who are] like themselves."

Dave Singleton, an award-winning writer and columnist for since 2003, is the author of two books on dating and relationships. Send your dating questions and comments to him at
Related Articles

print send feedback subscribe to
What kind of relationship are you looking for?

Marriage—I'm definitely looking for The One.

I'd like a committed, serious relationship, but not marriage.

I want someone to have fun with—I'm not ready to settle down.

Browse singles in your area.
About | Your Privacy | Terms of Use
Contact Us | Advertise with Us | Become an Affiliate

Copyright 2011, L.L.C.

partner sites:  HSN  Citysearch  Evite  Expedia  Hotels  Ticketmaster  ReserveAmerica  Hotwire   LendingTree 
Entertainment  TripAdvisor  CondoSaver  TravelNow  ClassicVacations  LiveDaily  Udate