The Department of Computer Science at the University of Cyprus cordially invites you to the Colloquium entitled:

Show Me You Care: Trait Empathy, Linguistic Style and Mimicry on Facebook


Speaker: Dr. Jahna Otterbacher
Affiliation: Open University of Cyprus, Cyprus
Category: Colloquium
Location: Room 148, Faculty of Pure and Applied Sciences (FST-01), 1 University Avenue, 2109 Nicosia, Cyprus (directions)
Date: Thursday, November 12, 2015
Time: 12:00-13:00 EET
Host: George Samaras ( and Styliani Kleanthous (

Many advocate for artificial agents to be more empathic in their interactions with humans. Similarly, digital marketers want to understand how to effectively elicit empathic responses from audiences, to achieve desired outcomes. Endeavors such as these entail that we achieve a better understanding of how people demonstrate empathy in their communications with others in technology-mediated environments. The current research focuses on a particular aspect of human language, linguistic mimicry, that has been described as a means to, perhaps subconsciously, communicate empathy to another. Mimicry, the adoption of another’s language patterns, has been studied extensively face-to-face, but much less often in technology-mediated settings. Therefore, we draw on the social psychology and professional communication literatures to frame our study. We built a Facebook App, which we use to administer Davis’ Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI), a standardized measure of trait empathy, and to capture a snapshot of participants’ language behaviors. We ask whether individuals with more empathic personalities have unique communication styles and/or elicit more linguistic mimicry from friends, as compared to less empathic personalities. We cluster participants based on IRI scores, identifying four salient profiles. We then confirm that empathy profile is indeed correlated to participants’ linguistic behaviors, in ways that we would expect (e.g., more “other-oriented” individuals directly engage their friends via the pronoun “you”). Next, through an analysis of participants’ posts and their friends’ comments on those posts, we indeed find that when particular language features are used in a post, that this often triggers its use by a friend. However, we do not find that more empathic personalities are more likely to elicit a mimicry response from friends. Rather, mimicry seems to happen more often in posts that convey a casual, personal tone. In this talk, I will discuss the implications of our results for creating more empathic messages in contexts such as personalized advertising and agent-human interaction. I will also briefly discuss some lessons learned in building and deploying a Facebook app for research purposes.

Short Bio:
Jahna Otterbacher received her doctorate in Information from the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor – USA), where she was a member of the Computational Linguistics and Information Retrieval (CLAIR) research group. Her research and teaching interests lie at the intersection of social computing, communication science and data science. She analyzes behavioral and language traces left by users of information systems in order to better facilitate their interactions with others, as well as their access to information. She is currently an academic coordinator of the M.Sc. in Social Information Systems at the Open University of Cyprus, where she holds the rank of Lecturer (tenure-track). She previously served as an Assistant Professor in the Lewis College of Human Sciences at the Illinois Institute of Technology (Chicago, USA) (2010-2012) and Visiting Lecturer of Management Information Systems at the University of Cyprus (2006-2009).

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Sponsor: The CS Colloquium Series is supported by a generous donation from Microsoft