Spend enough time on the internet, and you might start feeling an inescapable sense of melancholy from the constant barrage of bad news, mean-spirited tweets, and divisive Facebook posts from that guy you haven’t spoken to since high school. But while an endless stream of depressing words scrolling across your laptop screen might put you in a funk, a new study indicates that language itself isn’t necessarily such a bummer; There may, in fact, be an inherent trend toward the positive across the spectrum of human languages.
For their study “Human Language Reveals a Universal Positivity Bias,” published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences, a team of mathematicians from the University Of Vermont lead by Peter Dodds looked across ten different languages including English, Arabic, and simplified Chinese, compiling thousands of the most used words culled from literature, social media, even song lyrics. Using native speakers to asses the various compiled words in terms of their positivity, the team concluding there is:
…evidence of a deep imprint of human sociality in language, [and] that (i) the words of natural human language possess a universal positivity bias, (ii) the estimated emotional content of words is consistent between languages under translation, and (iii) this positivity bias is strongly independent of frequency of word use.
For those who insist on keeping score, Spanish reportedly has the strongest bias toward positivity, while Chinese rankes last. Still, the overall trend, the researchers found, indicated a positivity bias across all languages.