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Mass-scale emotionality reveals human behaviour and marketplace success

Abstract

Online reviews promise to provide people with immediate access to the wisdom of the crowds. Yet, half of all reviews on Amazon and Yelp provide the most positive rating possible, despite human behaviour being substantially more varied in nature. We term the challenge of discerning success within this sea of positive ratings the ‘positivity problem’. Positivity, however, is only one facet of individuals’ opinions. We propose that one solution to the positivity problem lies with the emotionality of people’s opinions. Using computational linguistics, we predict the box office revenue of nearly 2,400 movies, sales of 1.6 million books, new brand followers across two years of Super Bowl commercials, and real-world reservations at over 1,000 restaurants. Whereas star ratings are an unreliable predictor of success, emotionality from the very same reviews offers a consistent diagnostic signal. More emotional language was associated with more subsequent success.

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Fig. 1: Predicting movie revenue.
Fig. 2: Predicting restaurant table reservations.

Data availability

The data for Study 2 are available from Amazon (https://s3.amazonaws.com/amazon-reviews-pds/readme.html). The data from Studies 1, 3 and 4 are publicly hosted on www.metacritic.com (Study 1), www.twitter.com (Study 3), www.facebook.com (Study 3), www.opentable.com (Study 4) and www.yelp.com (Study 4). For purposes of verification and reproducibility, readers will be provided with the code and anonymized aggregated data results upon request. Although the data are publicly available, their use is governed by each site’s terms of use. Those interested in the original data should contact the site administrators for permission.

Code availability

The code for these analyses is available from the authors upon request.

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Acknowledgements

We received no specific funding for this work. We thank Internet Video Archive LLC for their assistance in providing access to the movie data and metadata from Study 1.

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M.D.R., D.D.R. and L.F.N. conceptualized the work. M.D.R. obtained and analysed the data with collaboration from D.D.R. and L.F.N. M.D.R., D.D.R. and L.F.N. wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Matthew D. Rocklage.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Human Behaviour thanks Jonah Berger, Saif Mohammad and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Rocklage, M.D., Rucker, D.D. & Nordgren, L.F. Mass-scale emotionality reveals human behaviour and marketplace success. Nat Hum Behav (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-021-01098-5

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