Study of the Day: English Is an Overwhelmingly Positive Language

By Hans Villarica

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

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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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/01/study-of-the-day-english-is-an-overwhelmingly-positive-language/251607/