Pestilence, famine and war can’t dim the human race’s sunny disposition.
The majority of communication — in books, Twitter, even newspapers — is positive, according to a study encompassing billions of words.
It didn’t matter which language. Researchers from the University of Vermont’s Computational Story Lab started with English, finding that use of positive words outstripped negative ones. They expanded their search to nine others including Russian, German, Spanish and Arabic, eventually targeting 100,000 words from 24 different sources such as Google Books, the New York Times, and movie and television subtitles.
To determine which words were positive or negative, the researchers paid native speakers in each language to rank them on a scale of 1 to 9. In English, “laughter” was an 8.5, “food” was 7.4, “truck” was 5.5 and “terrorist” was 1.3.
Without exception, the words that people used most frequently were positive, said Peter Dodds, the study’s lead researcher. While Spanish skewed the most upbeat and Chinese the least, the “happiness distribution” was always positive, the study found.
“It’s surprising to many people, but taking everything as a whole, we see this bias toward positivity,” Dodds said. “There is a lot in the fundamental way we use language that reflects our nature. While we do have some terrible problems in the world, our social nature is encoded in our language.”
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.