In the time of Twitter and Internet comments, it’s not hard to find language being used for evil. People take the remarkable human capacity for communication and wield it like a big dumb ax, hacking into anything and anyone they don’t like.
When you see enough of that, it’s easy to forget that people also use language as a scalpel, to dissect and understand complex things, and as a salve, to help and heal each other. They write the kind of sweet notes people love to share on social media, maybe as a deliberate antidote to all the online hate.
Thanks to a large data analysis, we now know that the latter outweighs the former. A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examined 100,000 words across texts in 10 different languages and found “a universal positivity bias.”
This bias was first posited in 1969, when a pair of psychologists wrote a paper called “The Pollyanna Hypothesis,” named for the fictional orphan girl with a propensity to look on the bright side. The original study had high school boys, who belonged to different cultures and spoke different languages, do word association tasks, and then ranked whether the pairs were positive or negative. More often, they were positive.