Life, generally speaking, is nothing like the comics or movies when it comes to criminal activity. Whether it is Batman or Spiderman or any other hero, criminals are ultimately fairly traceable and every crime can be solved — and criminals have simple patterns that can be traced and analyzed. In real life, it is a lot more difficult to recognize the patterns, if there are any, and crimes often are abandoned by the police.

When it comes to speech patterns — specifically, the speech patterns of psychopaths, a recent Cornell University study has revealed that there may be certain recognizable traits. I was a little put off by one thing that I read that seemed a bit like Minority Report, the film in which criminals are arrested before they have a chance to commit a crime — though that seems nearly inevitable at some point in the near future.

“Our paper is the first to show that you can use automated tools to detect the distinct speech patterns of psychopaths,” said [Jeff] Hancock, who was also the lead researcher for the study, “This can be valuable to clinical psychologists because the approach to treatment of psychopaths can be very different.”

It is fine and well to look at someone’s speech and consider it — what did they say? What was the meaning of the words and were there any patterns that were recognizable? It is quite another to have a computer listen to a recording or read a transcript of something someone says and have a red flag pop up with the word PSYCHOPATH. I realize that this is not quite how it would work but it would not be all that different, I imagine.

The patterns that are most interesting to me are a high frequency of the word “uhm” and “uh” as well as discussing food and other basic needs that are brought up in conversation. The former I find to be interesting because, well, I don’t know too many people who don’t regularly use uhms and uhs when speaking. The latter I find to be interesting because I have observed people speaking in great detail about the food they have eaten that day and I am nearly positive that they are not psychopaths.

Then again, they very well may be and I just never realized it. Regardless, it is interesting as far as learning more about the mind goes and in helping people in therapy but I would really hope that nobody ever gets arrested because they spoke in too much detail about their quest for a Snickers bar.


  1. Brilliant article, Gordon! We are how we speak. Our words make us. This is a fascinating topic for a diction discussion. How will react when every syllable is redacted and examined by computers for “criminal pattering?”