Main Focus

Check out our website (Macroscope) for historical meaning of words with a click of button -->

The words we use in our daily life reflects who we are, what we feel, and the social relationships we are in. This makes language a fertile ground for studying psychology. I am interested in how the language we produced reveals or shapes our mind. My research uses open-ended surveys, sizable linguistic corpora, network analysis and language models, with applications to the following projects:

Theme 1: Risk perception

  • How has the perception of risk changed over the past two centuries?
  • What events do people considered as risky and how they relate to each other?
  • Developing a culturally-universal risk preference scale.

Theme 2: Emotion and wellbeing

  • Developed a culturally-universal affect scale using free recall paradigm (Emotion Recall Task)
  • How do children acquire emotion concepts?
  • How do meanings of emotion words change over history?
  • Whether forward-looking attitude predicts national wellbeing and economic prosperity?

Theme 3: Corpus linguistics

  • What makes some words more likely to acquire new meanings than others?
  • The role of psycholinguistic factors in information transmission.
  • Modelling perception of conceptual metaphors.


  • Li, Y*., Engelthaler, T., Siew, C. S., & Hills, T. T. (2019). The Macroscope: A tool for examining the historical structure of language. Behavior research methods51(4), 1864-1877. 
  • Li, Y*., Masitah, A., & Hills, T. T. (2020). The Emotional Recall Task: Juxtaposing recall and recognition-based affect scales. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 46(9), 1782–1794.
  • Li, Y*., Hills, T. T., & Hertwig, R. (2020). A brief history of risk. Cognition203, 104344. 
  • Li, Y*., & Hills, T. T. (2021). Language patterns of outgroup prejudice. Cognition215, 104813.
  • Li, Y., Luan, S*., Li, Y., & Hertwig, R. (2021). Changing emotions in the COVID-19 pandemic: A four-wave longitudinal study in the United States and China. Social Science & Medicine. 285, 114222.
  • Li, Y., Luan, S*., Li, Y., Wu, J., Li, W., & Hertwig, R. (2022). Does risk perception motivate preventive behavior during a pandemic? A longitudinal study in the United States and China. American Psychologist. American Psychologist, 77(1), 111-123.
  • Li, Y*., Siew, C. S. (In press). Diachronic semantic change in language is constrained by how people use and learn language. Memory & Cognition.

Curriculum Vitae

  • 2015, M.Sc., Behavioral Economics, University of Warwick
  • 2019, P.hD., Psychology, University of Warwick
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