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Scientists at the University of Vermont and The MITRE Corporation have used a data set of billions of words to confirm the 1969 ‘Pollyanna Hypothesis’; the theory that there is a universal human tendency to use positive words.

The scientist used twenty-four types of sources to gather billions of words, ranging from books and news outlets to movie subtitles and music lyrics. The identified ten thousand of the most frequently use words in ten languages, of interest to both English and Modern Languages applicants : English, Spanish, French, German, Brazilian Portuguese, Korean, Chinese, Russian, Indonesian and Arabic. Native speakers rated the words on a nine-point scale from a frowning face to a broadly smiling one and an average was found for each word.

What the scientists call ‘highest average word happiness’ ranges across these languages from Chinese with the lowest, to Spanish with the highest, but every single one of the twenty four languages skewed above the neutral score of five.

The team of scientists has also developed a ‘hedonometer’ or happiness meter, which can now trace the global happiness signal from English-language Twitter posts. HSPS and PPE students can consider the value of social media and language in relation to policy and diplomacy. The goal is to apply this hedonometer to explore happiness signals in many languages and from many sources beyond Twitter.

Psychology students should consider why we associate certain words with positivity, and what might have caused this universal phenomenon. 

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