Online restaurant reviews tell a lot about the psychology of the people who write them, a new study has claimed.
Researchers from Stanford University used a software to study almost 900,000 reviews of 6,548 restaurants - from fast food to luxury restaurants - on Yelp.com.
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"Our goal was to examine online reviews not for what they tell us about restaurants, but rather for what they tell us about people, about the psychology of the person who wrote the review," Dan Jurafsky, a Stanford professor of linguistics and one of the co-authors, said.
"We studied the meanings that are hidden in the way people use words and connotations," Jurafsky said.
The reviews covered restaurants in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, DC.
The researchers found positive reviews of expensive restaurants tended to use metaphors of sex and sensual pleasure. Also, the words used in those reviews were longer and fancier.
Positive reviews of cheap restaurants and foods often employed metaphors of drugs or addiction. Negative reviews were frequently associated with the language of personal trauma and poor customer service: "We waited 10 min before we even got her attention to order."
Women were more likely than men to use drug metaphors to describe their attitudes toward food.
The foods most likely to be described using drug metaphors were pizza, burgers, sweets and sushi. For Jurafsky, the most surprising finding was how strongly the language of negative Yelp reviews resembled the language of people who have been traumatised by tragedies or the deaths of loved ones.
"Bad reviews seem to be caused by bad customer service rather than just bad food or atmosphere. The bottom line is that it's all about the personal interactions. When people are rude or mean to you, it goes straight to your sense of self," he said.
The negative reviews function as a means of coping with service-related trauma, according to the study. The study was published the journal First Monday.