Religious affiliation impacts language use on Facebook

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Washington | Published: August 22, 2017 5:13:01 PM

Religious people are more likely to use words like "happy", "family" and "love" in their Facebook posts, according to a study.

Facebook, Facebook Headquater, Facebook users, David Yaden, University of Pennsylvania, Religion on FacebookThe Facebook logo is pictured at the Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California (Reuters)

Religious people are more likely to use words like “happy”, “family” and “love” in their Facebook posts, according to a study. The study of 12,815 Facebook users found that use of positive emotion and social words is associated with religious affiliation whereas use of emotional and cognitive words like “angry” and “thinking” is more common for those who are not religious. “Non-religious individuals make more frequent mention of the body and of death” than religious people, said David Yaden from University of Pennsylvania in the US. The researchers collected data from the MyPersonality application, which asked Facebook users to report their religious affiliation (among other things). The app asked the users for consent to allow researchers to analyse their written online posts and other self-reported information.

The researchers ran two analyses to see what words each group (religious vs non-religious) used more than the other group. Religious people used more religious words, like “devil,” “blessing,” and “praying” than do non-religious people. They also showed higher use of positive words like “love” and family and social words such as “mothers” and “we.” The non-religious individuals used words from the anger category, like “hate” more than did religious people. They also showed a higher use of words associated with negative emotion and cognitive processes such as “reasons.” Other areas where the nonreligious dominated were: swear words, bodies, including “heads” and “neck” and words related to death including “dead.” “Over 80 per cent of the world’s population identifies with some type of religion – a trend that appears to be on the rise,” said Yaden, lead author of the study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. “Religion is associated with longer lives and well-being, but can also be associated with higher rates of obesity and racism,” they said. Yaden and his colleagues do not know if the different linguistic behaviours between religious and non-religious people reflect the psychological states of those in the group, or if the language use reflects the social norms of being part of that group, or some combination of the two.

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