People who identify as religious are more likely to use family-oriented language on Facebook, according to a new study. The researchers say their findings add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that religious affiliation affects how users represent themselves in social media, specifically by prompting use of more so-called “prosocial” words.
“We did observe a strong correlation between religious affiliation and mentions of family and positive emotions on social media,” coauthor on the study David Yaden of the University of Pennsylvania told Fatherly. But he cautions that this does not necessarily mean that religious folk care more about their families than atheists—it could be that they simply talk about family more often. “It is unclear from our study whether religious people are more satisfied with family life, or if religious communities encourage and reward mentioning one’s family more often in public settings.”
Yaden and colleagues delved into the social media posts of more than 12,000 Facebook users. About 10,000 users in the sample identified with some form of religion (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, or Buddhism) while the remaining participants identified as either agnostics or atheists. Researchers then examined and compared the language of the social posts between religious and nonreligious groups, based on 32 categories ranging from family-related keywords (family, mom, son, mother) to death (die, dead, died, alive). Here’s a diagram of the results:
Well, non-religious people say “fuck” a lot. But in addition to that finding, Yaden and his team noted that religiously-affiliated people were more likely to use words associated with positive emotions like “love” and “happy”, along with a battery of family-related terms. Atheists and agnostics, on the other hand, were more likely to use profanity, language associated with death and anger, and words related to insight, such as “noticed” and “reasons”.
This result was not entirely unexpected. “Religiosity does tend to correlate with one’s satisfaction with their family life,” he says, pointing to Pew Research that suggests religious individuals are more likely to feel “very satisfied” with their family lives. “Self-transcendent experiences tend to result in positive improvements to one’s family life.”
But Yarden also says that it should not be assumed that religion leads to happiness. It’s more subtle than that. “On the individual level religion does do a number of things to increase well-being and health,” he says. “On the social level studies have shown that less religious societies are generally healthier and happier.” And just because your devout aunt Tilly posts non-stop about how she’s feeling #blessed because of her wonderful #family, that’s certainly no indication that she’s any happier than her atheist nephew—who can’t help but “notice” all the #hate and #death in the world.