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ambulanceWe really are defining trauma down.

According to a recent study of Yelp reviews, a bad restaurant experience leaves diners suffering from trauma as if they had suffered a personal disaster, including the use of language akin to language used in discussing terrorist attacks

Scientists studied more than one million one star restaurant reviews posted on Yelp between 2011 and 2013 which spanned more than 6,5000 restaurants across major US cities like New York and San Francisco.

They found the language used by reviewers was similar to that used by people suffering from trauma. Linguistic clues including talking about their experience in the past tense, to distance themselves from the situation, and speaking as group rather than an individual.

Dan Jurafsky, professor of linguistics and computer science at Stanford University reports:

“We thought they would talk about how bad the food was, that it was greasy but instead they used very specific language using the past tense rather than the present tense and talking about other people a lot as well as using lots of negative words like ‘awful’ and ‘terrible’.

“It turns out that there is previous scientific literature showing that these are the same characteristics used by people writing after they have been traumatized, such as people writing after 9/11 or students writing after a campus tragedy.

“So when they are writing about one star restaurant reviews they are reminiscing about a small trauma that happened to them.”

The reviews focus on the treatment by the staff rather than the quality of the food:

“If you look at the reviews, sure enough it was all ‘someone was mean to me’, the waiter or waitress was rude. It’s all about personal interactions,” added Prof Jurafsky.

“You would think the review would be about the food but it’s actually all about this interaction. People feel injured and want to write about it.”

I don’t quite understand this. Someone being rude (or inattentive or slow) constitutes a trauma?

Better call mommy to complain.

One problem with review sites such as Yelp is that people self-select to get into the sample population. It is not a randomly selected sample and thus there is always the possibility the collection of people writing reviews is biased in some way—a certain kind of person may be more likely to write a negative review.

Apparently, negative reviewers on Yelp are disproportionately children traumatized by a scowling waitperson.

Of course, bloggers are disproportionately dyspeptic, unsympathetic bores who cannot resist a snark-laced jeremiad. So if you recently had a pot of hot coffee dumped in your lap, I apologize.

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