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Is Language Getting More Emotional?

Researchers look at how language has changed to focus less on facts, and more on feelings.

By:  |  May 9, 2022  |    589 Words

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When you think about the world around you, what is more important – facts or feelings? Do you listen more to your emotions or the logical part of your brain? Take a look at the following list of words. Which are about emotion, and which ones are to do with logic or reasoning?

Report, result, sweet, promise, indicate, imagine, determine, anger, thankful, conclusion, dare, increase, dream, data, effect, blame, polite.

According to one study, today’s society uses more words based on emotions (how we feel), rather than reason or logic (careful thinking). Does this mean people care more about feelings now than before?

Earlier this year, the National Academy of Sciences published a study showing language is becoming more emotional and less rational. Researchers at Wageningen University and Indiana University joined forces to examine the language used in books and articles.

The study used a computer algorithm to examine millions of fiction and non-fiction books, in both English and Spanish, published between 1850 and 2019. It also looked at articles from The New York Times newspaper. The researchers took the 5,000 most frequently used words and ranked them based on how emotional, or feeling-based, they were.

The results of the experiment found that discussions these days are based more on emotion than facts. The researchers said this suggests “that we are living in a special historical period when it comes to the balance between emotion and reasoning.”

The study also found that online search words used on Google showed the same trend toward feelings.

Changing Language

The researchers pointed out that logic-based words like “determine” and “conclusion” had become more popular around 1850, while emotion-based words like “feel” and “believe” got less common. The opposite has happened over the last few decades, with feeling words becoming more popular.

One cause for the use of reason-based words in the 1800s-1900s could have been the rise of science. Even though people have studies the world around them for thousands of years, it wasn’t until the 1800s that the scientific method was developed. This method was based on empirical evidence – proof gained through observing facts. For example, ideas had to be tested and proven by doing experiments and watching the results.

The Age of Enlightenment of the 1600-1800s also promoted the ideas of logic and reason. Many thinkers of this time put a high value on science, law, and the ability of people to think for themselves. Could this have impacted the way people used language?

Today, we don’t have such a focus on facts and reasoning. Why?

According to the study, one reason could be social media and the internet. The use of feeling words became especially popular around 2007. One cause may have been the increase of people using social media. Issues discussed on social media platforms, the researchers say, are often exaggerated and lead to strong feelings.

On the other hand, the switch to emotional language started in the 1970s, before people had access to the internet – so there must be other causes, too. Some suggest that people might just be more open these days about expressing their personal experiences and points of view.

In conclusion, the researchers suggest that “societies may need to find a new balance … recognizing the importance of intuition and emotion, while at the same time making best use of the much needed power of rationality and science to deal with topics …”

How can we find the balance in our lives between logic and feelings?

Test your knowledge – take a quiz based on this test!

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