What Were They Thinking? Analytic and Cognitive Language in Instagram Captions

*Corresponding author: Sheila Brownlow*, Makenna Pate, Abigail Alger and Natalie Naturile

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brief research report


We examined content and expression of Instagram captions of major celebrities who differed according to sex and status, with a focus on determining whether these variables influenced the use of analytic language and cognitive content.
Instagram captions (n=942) were analyzed with the linguistic inquiry and word count (LIWC), which delineated percentage of language reflecting analytical thought and various cognitive mechanisms, such as causality and discrepancy.
Men and low-status persons used more functional analytic language, demonstrating critical thought; in contrast, high-status celebrities showed more causality. Women more than men “qualified” their speech with discrepancy. These findings were not a function of sentence length.
Status increased the tendency to construct and explain, perhaps because higher status celebrities (particularly women) knew that they could hold followers’ attention with complex content. The tendency to write captions that were concrete was seen in those lower-status persons who may have perceived that followers would not wade through a lot of complicated thoughts. Thus, status contributes to the manner in captioning based, perhaps, on having a broader audience willing to read more complex language.
Language use; Status; Instagram; Sex differences in linguistics.