Study of the Day: English Is an Overwhelmingly Positive Language

More

University of Vermont mathematicians analyze billions of words in literature, music, and even Twitter, and find that happiness is a constant.

main design36 shutterstock_36074788.jpg

PROBLEM: Last month, University of Vermont researchers led by mathematician Peter Dodds proclaimed that average global happiness had been dropping for the past two years after studying billions of tweets worldwide.

METHODOLOGY: To verify their findings and check if English is inherently positive or negative, the scientists analyzed billions of words from Twitter, a half-century of music lyrics, 20 years of The New York Times, and millions of books going back to 1520.

After finding the 10,222 most frequently used English words from these four sources, they asked a group of volunteers to rate the emotional temperature of these words. A positive word like "laughter" was given an 8.5 score, for instance, while a negative word like "terrorist" was given a 1.3 rating.

RESULTS: There was an overwhelming preponderance of happier words among the top 5,000 words in each of the sources.

CONCLUSION: English is strongly biased toward being positive.

IMPLICATION: The results don't necessarily show that "everything is fine and happy," says Dodds in a statement. He notes that "positive words [may] have been more widely and deeply engrained into our communications than negative ones" since language evolves and we are a pro-social storytelling species.

SOURCE: The full study, "Positivity of the English Language," is published in the journal PLoS ONE.

Image: design36/Shutterstock.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Hans Villarica writes for and produces The Atlantic's Health channel. His work has appeared in TIME, People Asia, and Fast Company.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.

Video

A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Video

What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.

Video

Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Health

Just In