Words charged with positive emotions are used more frequently and augment human communication
Scientists at ETH Zurich have studied the use of language, finding that words with positive emotion are more frequently used in written communication than those with negative emotional content. This result supports the theory that social relations are enhanced by a positive bias in human communication. The study by David Garcia and his colleagues from the Chair of Systems Design is published in the first issue of the new SpringerOpen journal EPJ Data Science, and is freely available to the general public as an Open Access article.
Previous studies focused on word lengths and frequency. They demonstrated that frequency depends on the length of words used, as a result of the principle of least effort influencing the use of shorter words. In contrast, this study focused on how the emotions expressed in words relate to the word frequency and its information content. The authors focused on words used in written emotional expression in the three most popular European languages online: English, German and Spanish.
They exploited a dataset on human behavior on the Internet, which includes texts from blogs, chat rooms and forums, among other sources. After performing a quantitative analysis on this dataset, the authors found that positive words appeared more frequently than words associated with a negative emotion. This suggests that the emotional content affects the words’ frequency, even though the overall emotional content of the studied words is neutral on average. These findings support existing theories that there is a positive bias in human expression to facilitate social interaction.
Going one step further, the authors also focused on words within their context and realised that positive words carried less information than negative ones. Therefore, because of the positive bias observed in human communication, positive words are more likely to be used whereas negative expressions could be reserved to transmit information about urgent threats and dangerous events.
evidence that positive emotions exist for a reason…
evidence that evolution has selected positive emotions for specific reasons that help our species – reasons that help you in every area of your life.
Positive emotions include feelings such as awe, curiosity, gratitude, compassion, calm, love, joy, interest, passion and happiness.
Evidence is mounting to support the importance of cultivating positive emotions for success in a variety of areas in your life.
A comfy nesting bed with egg pillows
At the beginning of every session with a new client, I make a point of sharing a short, humorous video clip. One of my personal favorites is the popular Mother’s Day video by Barats and Bereta (www.BaratsAndBereta.com)…
The reason for sharing a humorous video with new clients is three-fold.
First, the funny video unlocks any negative emotions the client may be holding onto such as anger, irritability, anxiety or sadness (Fredrickson, The Broaden-and-Build Theory of Positive Emotions, 2004, The Royal Society).
Second, those few, fleeting moments of laughter, mirth and smiling reduce depressive symptoms and improve your well-being and satisfaction with life (Sin & Lyubomirsky, Enhancing Well-Being and Alleviating Depressive Symptoms With Positive Psychology Interventions: Practice-Friendly Meta-Analysis, JOURNAL OF CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGY: IN SESSION, 2009).
Combination stairs and slide for young ones
Third, science has known for over a decade that chronic anger, anxiety and depression put you at an elevated risk for cardiovascular disease (Suls & Bunde, Anger, Anxiety, and Depression as Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease, Psychological Bulletin, 2005). Most people go through life with the sympathetic branch of the ANS stuck in the ‘on’ position. The sympathetic branch is similar to the gas pedal in a car. Negative emotions (along with stress, exhaustion, and lack of exercise) activate the sympathetic nervous system which leads to increased heart rate, pulse and higher levels of cortisol into the blood stream. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response.
On the flip side, positive emotions activate the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which acts like the brakes on a car. The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is in charge of calming the body, reducing heart rate and pulse, and bringing the body back to a resting state. The extent to which you can activate your PNS predicts your emotional and physical health. It is intimately related to how well you can self-regulate your own emotions.
Lower levels of PNS activity are related to higher levels of depression (Chambers and Allen, 2002), anxiety (Friedman and Thayer, 1993), aggression (Beauchaine and others, 2007), and hostility (Virtanen and others, 2003).
On the other side, higher levels of PNS activity are associated with better psychological flexibility, health and resiliency. Individuals with higher levels of PNS activity are related to more resiliency to stress (Britton and others, 2008) as well as greater mental health in children in the face of chronic conflict between parents at home.
How do you come up with such an idea? Start with passion and curiosity
Importantly, the frequency with which you experience positive emotions is related to a more active PNS. Individuals who were shown humorous video clips demonstrated faster heart rate recover after experiencing intense negative emotions (Fredrickson & Levenson, 1998). In addition, simply asking people to think about a time when they felt grateful activated the PNS.
Other ways to ‘turn on’ the PNS include exercise, laughter, mindfulness, massage, yoga, walking your dog and taking fish oil.
You’ve gotta’ be inspired to come up with a bedroom like this!
The success I’ve experienced with clients in my private practice is directly related to how well I can make them laugh. With laughter comes opportunity…
opportunity to unlock stale old anger,
opportunity to teach critical new skills,
opportunity to think outside the box, and
opportunity to transform your life for the better.
How do you proceed from here?
Begin to become more aware of the percentage of time you spend in a positive emotional state as compared to a negative state. This simple realization, this basic level of awareness will begin to produce massive tectonic shifts in your life. And you will reap the benefits…on a number of levels…physical, relational, and emotional.
I was recently asked for a quote for www.Livestrong.com for an article on emotions and how they influence our attainment of goals around health and wellness (i.e., optimal human functioning). Here is my short email…
Guilt has a boomerang effect on you
Hi! I hope this note finds you smiling! My Ph.D. is in educational psychology out of UC Berkeley. I currently teach positive psychology (JFKU), coach individuals in anger management and the latest ways to use positive psychology.
I am a self-professed emotion geek. I have studied emotion research for a decade now. I love discovering how emotions affect our behaviors, such as health and wellness goals (e.g., losing weight, building muscle, eating better, learning a sport, or building psychological resiliency).
For instance, a recent study showed that guilt has a boomerang effect where it first causes the guilty party to avoid the guilt-inducing situation. Then guilt causes one to approach the situation to make things better. This is the first emotion I am aware of thats been scientifically shown to have both an approach and an avoidance component to it.
In terms of wellness goals then, a moderate level of guilt (think a 4-6 on a 10 point scale) may work effectively at meeting wellness goals. If you fall off the wagon and feel guilty about it, you are likely to re-approach your goal shortly with a renewed motivation.
Elevation is the positive emotion experienced when you watch another person perform an act of moral courage or high integrity, and was first ‘discovered’ by Jon Haidt. This emotion seems to act as a hidden reset button wiping out doubt, replacing it with feelings of inspiration, hope and optimism. Elevation creates a desire to become a better person and thus, is likely to lend itself to meeting wellness goals.
Please note: When I interviewed Jon Haidt several years ago, he was not ready at that time to label elevation an emotion. More research was needed. From what I understand, both Jon and Dacher Keltner at UC Berkeley are now looking into it. I hope that is helpful for your article!
To life, love, and laughter!
John Schinnerer, Ph.D.
Founder Guide to Self, Inc.
P.S. Want to find out more about your emotional landscape? Want to figure out HOW to turn down the volume on anger, anxiety or sadness? Need to know the latest in anger management tools? Would you like to learn how to cultivate more positive emotions in your daily life? Just visit www.GuideToSelf.com, and click on the yellow book icon. Enter your name and email address for a FREE PDF copy of John’s award-winning book, Guide to Self: The Beginner’s Guide to Managing Emotion and Thought, because when it comes to the emotional mind, we’re all beginners!