Study: Religious people more positive, less vulgar on social media

WASHINGTON — The type of language you use on social media may provide hints at your religious affiliation, a new study finds.

Researchers in the U.S., UK, and Australia examined the accounts of nearly 13,000 Facebook users, hoping to both validate previous research and conduct a new inquiry into the kinds of words we use on social networks.

Man praying inside church
How you speak on social media may give away your level of faith. More religious people tend to be positive and use fewer profanities, a new study finds.

Using a multifaceted and comprehensive approach, the researchers found that individuals of faith were more likely to use words with a religious connotation, such as “faith,” “devil,” and “praying” on Facebook.

In addition, pious people were more inclined to use positive words like “love” and “family,” along with words implying solidarity (e.g., “mothers” and “we”).

Non-religious individuals, on the other hand, were predisposed to writing messages that implied extreme dislike (e.g., “hate”), along with words associated with negative emotion and cognitive processes (e.g., “reasons”).

Those unaffiliated with a religion were more likely to use profanity, mention mortality, and post about human anatomical regions on social media.

Overall, the use of more cheerful and optimistic language was associated with piety, the researchers note.

“Positive emotion and social words are associated with religious affiliation whereas negative emotion and cognitive processes are more associated with non-religious affiliation,” explains lead author David Yaden in a press release.

Although over 80 percent of the world is religious, secularism is on the rise in the Western World.

“Religion is associated with long lives and well-being, but can also be associated with higher rates of obesity and racism,” the researchers write.

Yaden et al. are unsure as to whether different language use reflects inherently different psychological states among the non-religious, or if it’s a conditioning taught within the group.

Future inquiries could look into what shapes choice of diction.

The researchers also hope to compare the differences in word choice between different faiths.

The study’s findings were published recently in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.


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