Affective biases in English are bi-dimensional Academic Article uri icon

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abstract

  • A long-standing observation about the interface between emotion and language is that positive words are used more frequently than negative ones, leading to the Pollyanna hypothesis which alleges a predominantly optimistic outlook in humans. This paper uses the largest available collection of affective ratings as well as insights from linguistics to revisit the Pollyanna hypothesis as it relates to two dimensions of emotion: valence (pleasantness) and arousal (intensity). We identified systematic patterns in the distribution of words over a bi-dimensional affective space, which (1) run counter to and supersede most prior accounts, and (2) differ drastically between word types (unique, distinct words in the lexicon) and word tokens (number of occurrences of available words in the lexicon). We argue for two factors that shape affect in language and society: a pro-social benevolent communication strategy with its emphasis on useful and dangerous phenomena, and the structure of human subjective perception of affect.

publication date

  • October 3, 2015