Maths proves human language has happiness bias

February 10, 2015 by Robyn Mills

New mathematics research has shown humans all around the world tend to be more positive than negative in their language.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences today, the research shows that positivity is ingrained in the way in which humans communicate across many languages and cultures.

Led by the University of Vermont and including the University of Adelaide, the research uses "" to confirm the 'Pollyanna hypothesis' (from 1969) which says the human subconscious is biased towards remembering positive ideas.

The research also paves the way for the development of powerful language-based tools for measuring emotion.

"We're trying to build real-time measures of population-scale wellbeing, akin to Gross Domestic Product or economic indices," says co-author Dr Lewis Mitchell, from the University of Adelaide's School of Mathematical Sciences. "Happiness is obviously important, but tough to define and measure.

"We want to be able to do this in a data-driven, open-source way, so that both the public and policymakers can consult these metrics on a daily basis, as they might interest rates or stock tickers."

The researchers found the top 100,000 of the most frequently used words across 10 languages from a wide range of sources, and then asked natural language speakers to rate whether those words were "happy" or "sad" on a 1-9 scale. The findings were based on five million individual human scores.

"We then collected all of these scores and looked at the distribution of scores, and in every single that distribution was skewed towards positive emotions," says Dr Mitchell.

"It doesn't matter whether it's English, Spanish, Russian or Chinese─the words that make up our languages are universally biased towards ."

Even though all 10 languages were positively biased, there were some differences between them: Spanish and Portuguese were the "happiest" and Chinese, Korean and Russian were the "saddest."

The other languages were English, German, French, Indonesian and Arabic.

Explore further: F-bombs notwithstanding, all languages skew toward happiness

More information: "Human language reveals a universal positivity bias," by Peter Sheridan Dodds et al. PNAS, www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1411678112

Related Stories

F-bombs notwithstanding, all languages skew toward happiness

February 9, 2015

In 1969, two psychologists at the University of Illinois proposed what they called the Pollyanna Hypothesis—the idea that there is a universal human tendency to use positive words more frequently than negative ones. "Put ...

"Kernel" lexicon of languages remains stable in the long run

October 7, 2014

The frequency with which we use different words changes all the time, new words are invented or fall out of use. Yet little is known about the dynamics of lexical change across languages. Researchers of Kazan Federal University ...

Recommended for you

Metacognition training boosts gen chem exam scores

October 20, 2017

It's a lesson in scholastic humility: You waltz into an exam, confident that you've got a good enough grip on the class material to swing an 80 percent or so, maybe a 90 if some of the questions go your way.

Scientists see order in complex patterns of river deltas

October 19, 2017

River deltas, with their intricate networks of waterways, coastal barrier islands, wetlands and estuaries, often appear to have been formed by random processes, but scientists at the University of California, Irvine and other ...

Six degrees of separation: Why it is a small world after all

October 19, 2017

It's a small world after all - and now science has explained why. A study conducted by the University of Leicester and KU Leuven, Belgium, examined how small worlds emerge spontaneously in all kinds of networks, including ...

Ancient DNA offers new view on saber-toothed cats' past

October 19, 2017

Researchers who've analyzed the complete mitochondrial genomes from ancient samples representing two species of saber-toothed cats have a new take on the animals' history over the last 50,000 years. The data suggest that ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.