Study: Negative Words Dominate Language

Or a neutral word, like "surprise," probably requires less processing than the word "hate."

So over the centuries, Schrauf says, people have developed more words to describe negative emotions because survival and quality of life may be at stake.

"Negative emotions require more detailed thinking, more subtle distinctions," says Schrauf, whose research was published in a recent issue of the Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development.

So we conjure up more negative words because the language needs to be precise. And this research suggests that's probably true for every culture and every age group. Even though some of the words may not have precisely the same meaning in every language, they tend to be more negative than positive.

But that doesn't mean we're bad, Schrauf says. It just means we're trying to cope, and it's easier to cope with joy than it is with shame.

Lee Dye's column appears weekly on A former science writer for the Los Angeles Times, he now lives in Juneau, Alaska.

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