Do you think human communication is overall happy or positive? Well, you’re reading a blog called Bitter Empire and our demographics say y’all spend a lot of time on the Twitters so our guess is no. But you’d be wrong!
A new study completed by researchers at the University of Vermont has discovered that human languages universally trend towards the positive. The study, “Human language reveals a universal positivity bias”, was inspired by a hypothesis put forward in the 1960s by two psychologists at the University of Illinois. After a small cross-cultural evaluation of written communication, the psychologists argued that human languages are biased towards positivity. They dubbed their hypothesis the “Pollyanna Hypothesis.” But, now, with the advent of Big Data (the ability to collect, collate and calculate at unprecedented levels) two new researchers decided it was time to put the Pollyanna Hypothesis to the test.
Researchers Peter Dodds and Chris Danforth led a team of researchers who gathered billions of words from ten different languages. They used twenty-four types of sources including books, news outlets, social media, websites, television and movie subtitles, and music lyrics. Social media you say? Oh yes, they did indeed use the Twitters! Danforth estimated that they “…collected roughly one hundred billion words written in tweets.” Just imagine all the cat pictures they scooped up as well.
After collecting all those words, they paid volunteers to rate each word on a happiness scale, that was, wait for it…made of progressively happier faces!
Their findings? Overall, all ten languages trended towards positivity.
While the overall finding that we really are pretty positive in our communication is fascinating, one element of the study truly captures the imagination. The researchers created a tool to measure happiness in a particular selection of words. They call the tool a Hedonometer.
For example, the average happiness of the Harry Potter series: 5.7
Check out what it looks like when you plot the happiness of the Harry Potter series over time:
Or maybe you’re curious if the Twitters are having a bad day? Well, they have a Hedonometer for that, too. Below, we can examine the happiness of Twitter starting on an arbitrary date in October until early February:
Want to know if people were happier this Thanksgiving or last Thanksgiving? You can find that out! Really! It’s online: GO LOOK RIGHT NOW!
This large scale data study settles a fifty-year-old question about the emotional nature of language, proving the Pollyanna Hypothesis to be true – we really are universally positive in our communication. And while they settled that important question, they created a super cool little web app that has incredibly practical uses. That is pretty freakin’ amazing. We have just developed a huge tech crush on the University of Vermont’s Computational Story Lab.
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock