Religious affiliation impacts language use on Facebook

August 22, 2017, Society for Personality and Social Psychology

Are you more likely to use words like "happy" and "family" in your social media posts? Or do you use emotional and cognitive words like "angry" and "thinking?" The words you use may be a clue to your religious affiliation. A study of 12,815 U.S. and U.K. Facebook users finds use of positive emotion and social words is associated with religious affiliation whereas use of negative emotion and cognitive processes is more common for those who are not religious than those who are religious.

The work replicates Ritter et al.'s 2013 results on religious and nonreligious language use on Twitter and appears in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. Researchers from the U.S., U.K., and Australia conducted the work.

Just as Ritter and colleagues discovered in 2013, "We also found that positive emotion and social words are associated with whereas negative emotion and cognitive processes are more associated with non-religious ," says David Yaden (University of Pennsylvania), lead author of the study.

And they found some additional insight; "non-religious individuals make more frequent mention of the body and of death" than religious people, says Yaden.

The researchers collected data from the MyPersonality application, which asked Facebook users to report their religious affiliation (among other things), and asks them for consent to allow researchers to analyze their written online posts and other self-reported information (Kosinski, Stillwell, Graepel, 2013). They ran two analyses, to see what words each group (religious vs. non-religious) used more than the other group.

The team conducted both a "top-down" and a "bottom-up" analysis. The top down approach, Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC), uses groupings chosen by researchers, and is useful in making sense of the data in terms of theory. The "bottom-up," or Differential Language Analysis (DLA), approach allows an algorithm to group the words and can provide a more "transparent view" into the language.

Unsurprisingly, religious people used more religious words, like "devil," "blessing," and "praying" than do non-religious people. They also showed higher use of positive words like "love" and family and social words such as "mothers" and "we." The non-religious individuals used words from the anger category, like "hate" more than did religious people. They also showed a higher use of words associated with negative emotion and such as "reasons." Other areas where the nonreligious dominated: swear words (you can figure those out), bodies, including "heads" and "neck" and related to death including "dead."

The Role of Religion

While secularism is increasing in the west, "over 80% of the world's population identifies with some type of religion - a trend that appears to be on the rise" write the authors. "Religion is associated with longer lives and well-being, but can also be associated with higher rates of obesity and racism." For the researchers, understanding language use is part of the bigger picture of understanding how religious affiliation relates to these life outcomes.

Yaden and his colleagues do not know if the different linguistic behaviors between religious and non- reflect the psychological states of those in the group, or if the language use reflects the social norms of being part of that group, or some combination of the two. They hope further research will offer more insights.

Originally Yaden and colleagues hoped to "compare different religious affiliations with one another. That is, how do Buddhists differ from Hindus? Christians from Muslims? Atheists from Agnostics?," but they did not have enough specific data to conduct these analyses. "We hope to do so once a larger dataset becomes available to us," says Yaden.

Explore further: Strong religious beliefs may be linked to higher weight

More information: David B. Yaden et al, The Language of Religious Affiliation, Social Psychological and Personality Science (2017). DOI: 10.1177/1948550617711228

Related Stories

Strong religious beliefs may be linked to higher weight

August 7, 2017

(HealthDay)—There is evidence of a significant association between religious affiliation and body weight, with religiosity being significantly associated with higher body weight, according to research published online Aug. ...

Does a candidate's religion matter to voters?

July 12, 2017

Religion is sometimes used as shorthand to define a political candidate's views—"evangelical" and "antiabortion" may be considered interchangeable. But a new analysis by political scientists at the University of Houston ...

World survey links religion and happiness -- for some

August 9, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- There may be a few atheists in foxholes, but a new study suggests that in societies under stress, those who are religious outnumber – and are happier than – their nonreligious counterparts. Where ...

Recommended for you

Ancient mice discovered by climate cavers

September 24, 2018

The fossils of two extinct mice species have been discovered in caves in tropical Queensland by University of Queensland scientists tracking environment changes.

The first predators and their self-repairing teeth

September 24, 2018

The earliest predators appeared on Earth 480 million years ago—and they even had teeth capable of repairing themselves. A team of palaeontologists led by Bryan Shirley and Madleen Grohganz from the Chair for Palaeoenviromental ...

Fat from 558 million years ago reveals earliest known animal

September 20, 2018

Scientists from The Australian National University (ANU) and overseas have discovered molecules of fat in an ancient fossil to reveal the earliest confirmed animal in the geological record that lived on Earth 558 million ...

5 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

julianpenrod
1 / 5 (1) Aug 22, 2017
Some care needs to be taken. For example, the demonstrations of anger and references to the body among the God haters, and that is what they are, is consistent with the at least near addiction they have for use of profanity, vulgarity, obscenity. The use of the word "hate" is part of political indoctrination by the Democratic Party. When they seek to destroy an opposing group, they never engage in actually, truthfully comparing in depth Democratic agendas with the opponent. They often resort simply to accusing the opponent of "hate", intending that Democratic followers will refuse even to listen to points the opposition tries to make. Also, not, just because someone uses words to suggest they are thinking does not mean they are! So often, individuals will try to play themselves up in their own minds by depicting themselves as intelligent. It's often the case that intelligence is shown more by what you accomplish than by simply declaring you are intelligent.
julianpenrod
not rated yet Aug 22, 2017
It should be mentioned, too, that many if not most among those referred to as religious also don't necessarily display accomplishment or advancement. So often, those who are religious display absolute unquestioning even about the state of their faith. So few act like anything more than drones. Don't expect many who typify themselves as religious, for example, to notice faults, failings or deficiencies in their religion and try to take it the next step forward.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Aug 22, 2017
Wouldnt want to offend the big guy in the sky, yes? You know, G_d?

Have a blessed day.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Aug 22, 2017
Don't expect many who typify themselves as religious, for example, to notice faults, failings or deficiencies in their religion and try to take it the next step forward
What, you mean those who fail to follow the letter of the holy law? Of course the law is so hard to define when there are so many different versions...

"CSBHappy is he who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rocks.
CEB A blessing on the one who seizes your children and smashes them against the rock!
CJBA blessing on anyone who seizes your babies and smashes them against a rock!
CEVMay the Lord bless everyone who beats your children against the rocks!
DARBYHappy he that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the rock." psm 137:9 etcetera etcetera ad infinitum
[abridged]
https://www.biblegateway.com/

-Its a very long list julian. Im sure your version is in there somewhere.

If not I bet you can make up your own and god will bless that one too. Because youre one of the good ones yes?
BendBob
5 / 5 (2) Aug 22, 2017
I've heard the xtians have a god of wrath, a god of war, a god of vengeance and the list goes on. I wonder which god it was the murdered 1st born babies at night unless baby sheep blood is spread over the door to a home?

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.