Political psycholinguistics: A comprehensive analysis of the language habits of liberal and conservative social media users

Joanna Sterling, John T. Jost, Richard Bonneau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

For nearly a century social scientists have sought to understand left-right ideological differences in values, motives, and thinking styles. Much progress has been made, but-as in other areas of research-this work has been criticized for relying on small and statistically unrepresentative samples and the use of reactive, self-report measures that lack ecological validity. In an effort to overcome these limitations, we employed automated text analytic methods to investigate the spontaneous, naturally occurring use of language in nearly 25,000 Twitter users. We derived 27 hypotheses from the literature on political psychology and tested them using 32 individual dictionaries. In 23 cases, we observed significant differences in the linguistic styles of liberals and conservatives. For instance, liberals used more language that conveyed benevolence, whereas conservatives used more language pertaining to threat, power, tradition, resistance to change, certainty, security, anger, anxiety, and negative emotion in general. In 17 cases, there were also significant effects of ideological extremity. For instance, moderates used more benevolent language, whereas extremists used more language pertaining to inhibition, tentativeness, affiliation, resistance to change, certainty, security, anger, anxiety, negative affect, swear words, and death-related language. These research methods, which are easily adaptable, open up new and unprecedented opportunities for conducting unobtrusive research in psycholinguistics and political psychology with large and diverse samples.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)805-834
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Volume118
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 2020

Keywords

  • Political ideology
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Quantitative text analysis
  • Social cognition
  • Social media

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science

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