The study of emotions is one of the great current research topics in various areas of knowledge. One of the ways of approaching this line of work is through language (lexicon) that is used to mentally represent and talk about these emotions. However, until now there was no empirical data on which words best represent emotions.
At the University of Murcia, the ‘Cognitive Science’ group of which Miguel Ángel Pérez is a member, has recently published an article in the journal Behavior Research Methods under the title ‘Emo Pro – Emotional prototypicality for 1286 Spanish words: Relationships with affective and psycholinguistic variables’ result of a normative study of the emotional lexicon of the Spanish language developed between 2018 and 2020 and whose main objective was, precisely, to know which words are the most representative of Spanish to express or refer to emotions, that is, to determine which it is the emotional lexicon of Spanish.
“The study –explains Pérez– has consisted of collecting prototypicity data of 1,286 emotional words (for example: fear, joy, suspicion, envy or indecision) in order to know which words are the most representative of Spanish to express or refer to the emotions. It is the largest data set obtained to date for this variable. The emotional prototypicity data come from the evaluations issued by a total of 1,127 native Spanish participants from different parts of the national geography (Galicia, Catalonia, Madrid and Murcia). Furthermore, it has been analyzed which psycholinguistic and emotional variables of the words are related to emotional prototypicity, that is, in what terms we can characterize the emotional words of Spanish ».
The data obtained with this work solve this deficit existing to date and thus offers a useful tool for basic and applied research. EmoPro is valuable for researchers in the field of language and emotions, since it offers them the possibility of experimenting with the most and least representative emotional words in Spanish.
It is also of interest for applied areas such as, for example, for the evaluation of the acquisition of words and emotional concepts in children, for the selection of words to be included in psychological tests that assess emotional states or abilities, or even to help therapists to better characterize the emotional content produced by patients who perform narrative therapies.
Hypothesis and results
The researchers started from the assumption that not all words are equally representative of an affective or emotional state. According to Miguel Ángel Pérez, “just as there are specimens of a semantic category that are more representative of that category than others (for example, dog or cat better represent the category ‘pets’, or hammer or screwdriver better represent the category ‘tools’), there are words that better represent emotions than other words. It is what we technically call emotional prototyping. Our study has compiled information on this representativeness or emotional prototypicity of practically the entire emotional lexicon of Spanish ».
The researcher from the University of Murcia points out that, broadly speaking, the results obtained can be summarized in three large groups, depending on the number of words considered.
• Description of the entire set of 1,286 words evaluated: it has been observed that the emotional prototypicity of these words is mainly conditioned by their hedonic or affective charge, in the sense that, the greater the affective charge, it is positive or negative. , greater prototypicity. Another factor that also influences is the level of activation that the word denotes, being the words that refer to a greater physical activation, those evaluated as more emotionally prototypical. Finally, it has also been observed that the words strongly associated with the basic emotions happiness and sadness are considered the most prototypical, while the words associated with disgust are the least emotionally prototypical.
• Description of the 449 most prototypical emotional words in Spanish: in general terms, the unpleasant ones predominate (those referring to negative emotions) while the pleasant ones, have a strong activating charge (denote physically active states), are mostly acquired during middle childhood and late (around 8-9 years, on average), are rather concrete words, they are clearly words of low frequency of use, and adjectives stand out in quantity compared to nouns and verbs.
• Description of the 10 most extreme words in emotional prototypicity: these words are, and in this order, happy, joyful, happy, content, sadness, fear, rage, sad, anger and scared. Almost all of these words correspond to the terms commonly used to refer to basic emotions. Four of the 10 most prototypical emotional words have a pleasant or positive affective charge, while the other six refer to negative emotions. The basic emotions joy, sadness, fear and anger are represented in this top of emotional words, except the emotion disgust. The most prototypical word for the basic emotion disgust is hate, which appears in position 26 in the ordered list of words from highest to lowest emotional prototypicity.
The study, which has been funded by the Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities, Government of Spain; the Community of Madrid; the Government of Galicia and Xunta de Galicia and the Rovira i Virgili University, has been developed by researchers from the University of Murcia, the Rovira i Virgili University, the University of Santiago de Composterla, the Complutense University of Madrid, the University of Nebrija and The University of Southern Mississippi (United States).