A positive word

It is easy to imagine that humans wallow in a sea of negativity. After all the violence inherent in many mainstream movies, the daily media focus on disaster, and the mindless invective of Twitter Trolls could lead you to think that our language is excessively negative; but you would have been led astray. In fact a massive analysis of billions of words in ten languages shows that our language is largely positive.

In 1969 some psychologists came up with the “Pollyanna Hypothesis”, the idea that there is a universal human tendency to use positive words more frequently than negative ones. This was just an untested theory, not universally accepted, until now. To test the hypothesis researchers gathered billions of words from around the world using a range of sources including books, news outlets, social media, websites, television subtitles, movie subtitles, and music lyrics. The study encompassed ten languages including English, Spanish, French, German, Brazilian, Portuguese, Korean, Chinese, Russian, Indonesian, and Arabic.

For each language they found the most frequently used words and then asked native speakers of the language to rate the words on a scale from one to nine for their positive or negative nature (1 being negative and 9 being positive). So in English for instance, laughter was rated 8.5, food 7.44, the 4.98, greed 3.06, and terrorist 1.3.

The results showed that for all sources, yes all sources, averaged above five and therefore in the positive zone. Some sources were more positive than others; Spanish language websites scored the most positive and Chinese books scored the lowest. However, all sources showed a preponderance of positive language and that includes Twitter feeds in Korean, Russian literature, subtitles in Arabic, and music lyrics in English (including Country & Western!).

That means that despite all the superficial negativity, and despite the sage advice of dispirited newshounds that only negativity sells, from Twitter to Tolstoy humanity overall chooses to use more happy words than sad words. Possibly the greatest and defining invention of our species, our language, we mostly use in a positive way. There’s a thought to bring a smile to your dial as you sip on your beverage of choice.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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