All comparisons are not equal. Though logically, sentences like “men generally make more money than women” or “San Franciscans generally pay more money in rent than New Yorkers” are the equivalent of “women generally make less money than men” and “New Yorkers generally pay less rent than San Franciscans,” the latter sentences don’t hold the same sway with most people. According to a new study, people tend to prefer to make and read comparisons with “more than,” and are more likely to believe those assertions than statements phrased with "less than."
The study, published by psychologists from two German and Belgian universities in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, compared the two lexical structures in a series of seven tests with 1,388 people who spoke German or Dutch. In each study, people tended to more strongly believe statements about older and younger workers, drug efficacy, and gender stereotypes when they were framed as “more than” comparisons. They were also more likely to spontaneously use “more than” constructions themselves.
“More than” statements, the researchers posit, are easier for people to process, because it’s easier for people to imagine the presence of a quality rather than its absence. Thus, people might use, like, and agree with “more than” statements more often because they do not have to work as hard to wrap their brains around them. (Sort of how subtraction is a more complex math subject to learn than addition.)
The study might be limited by the fact that it only studied speakers of two Germanic languages—people with a background in a different language family, such as Mandarin Chinese speakers, might view comparisons differently. However, Dutch and German are both fairly closely related to English, so it’s likely that the findings would parallel anglophone tendencies as well.
[h/t: Social Psych Online]