Linguistics professors from Stanford University and Carnegie Mellon University analyzed the language used in hundreds of thousands of Yelp reviews and came to one conclusion: People really like comparing their food to sex and drugs.
In a study published in First Monday, the researchers examined what the reviews reveal about their authors’ psychological profiles. They found among the mostly-positive Yelp reviews (more than half of all reviews analyzed had 4 or 5 stars), reviewers often wrote about the food’s “sensual” or “addictive” effects, using sexual adjectives to describe expensive foods and drug-related words to describe cheap foods, because crack is cheap and addictive.
The researchers kept tabs on drug and addiction references in the Yelp reviews by tracking how frequently reviewers used words like “crave/craving,” “binge/binging,” and “phrases describing food as the drug crack (including made of crack, food crack, edible crack, etc.).” They found drug references occur more frequently in the highly-starred reviews, and much more frequently in reviews for inexpensive, informal restaurants. As for the crack-like foods themselves, they mostly consisted of fried, starchy, and/or sweet foods. (Doughnuts are not specifically mentioned in the study, but FYI doughnuts satisfy all three of these cravings most satisfactorily.)
More expensive restaurants were often described using sexual metaphors, including words like “orgasm” and its derivatives (e.g. “orgasmic”) and “sex” in its various forms (e.g. “sexy” or “sexual”). The authors of the study concluded reviewers were drawn to sex lingo because they allowed users to portray themselves “as a food lover attuned to the sensual and hedonic element of cuisine.” Reviews of expensive restaurants tended to use longer, more complex words and write generally longer reviews which, according to the authors, “suggests that reviewers are adopting the stance of the high socio–economic class associated with expensive restaurants.” These graphs chart reviewers’ mentions of sex and drugs as compared to the restaurants’ prices:
Negative reviews, on the other hand, tended to use a lot of first-person plurals like “we” and “our” combined with narrative descriptions of negative behaviors inflicted by other people — in this case, the restaurant wait staff. The study says, “the combination of these two categories suggests that one–star reviews are narratives of negative emotion, stories about something bad that happened involving what other people said and did.”
Unstated but implied by the study: if you post a long, sexy Yelp review, you’re probably kind of wack, and if you post a negative Yelp review, you’re definitely wack, unless something really terrible happened. That’s somebody’s livelihood, you know? Also, the study neglects to mention the famed Salted Crack Caramel ice cream from Brooklyn’s Ample Hills Creamery, which is both literally comparable to crack and very expensive, therefore contradicting the whole study.