Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Fear factor increases, emotions decrease in books written in last 50 years

Date:
March 20, 2013
Source:
University of Bristol
Summary:
The use of words with emotional content in books has steadily decreased throughout the last century, according to new research. The emotional content of published English has been steadily decreasing over the past century, with the exception of words associated with fear, an emotion which has resurged over the past decades.

The use of words with emotional content in books has steadily decreased throughout the last century, according to new research. The emotional content of published English has been steadily decreasing over the past century, with the exception of words associated with fear, an emotion which has resurged over the past decades.
Credit: photogl / Fotolia

The use of words with emotional content in books has steadily decreased throughout the last century, according to new research from the Universities of Bristol, Sheffield, and Durham. The study, published today in PLOS ONE, also found a divergence between American and British English, with the former being more 'emotional' than the latter.

The researchers looked at how frequently 'mood' words were used through time in a database of more than five million digitised books provided by Google. The list of words was divided into six categories (anger, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, surprise) previously used by one of the researchers, Dr Vasileios Lampos, to detect contemporary mood changes in public opinion as expressed in tweets collected in the UK over more than two years.

Dr Alberto Acerbi, a Newton Fellow in the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Bristol and lead author of the paper, said: "We thought that it would be interesting to apply the same methodology to different media and, especially, on a larger time scale. We were initially surprised to see how well periods of positive and negative moods correlated with historical events. The Second World War, for example, is marked by a distinct increase in words related to sadness, and a correspondent decrease in words related to joy."

In applying this technique, the researchers made some remarkable discoveries about the evolution of word usage in English books over the past century. Firstly, the emotional content of published English has been steadily decreasing over the past century, with the exception of words associated with fear, an emotion which has resurged over the past decades.

They also found that American English and British English have undergone a distinct stylistic divergence since the 1960s. American English has become decidedly more 'emotional' than British English in the last half-century.

The same divergence was also found in the use of content-free words, that is words which carry little or no meaning on their own, such as conjunctions ('and', 'but') and articles ('the').

Dr Acerbi said: "This is particularly fascinating because it has recently been shown that differences in usage of content-free words are a signature of different stylistic periods in the history of western literature."

This suggests that the divergence in emotional content between the two forms of English is paired by a more general stylistic divergence.

Co-author Professor Alex Bentley said: "We don't know exactly what happened in the Sixties but our results show that this is the precise moment in which literary American and British English started to diverge. We can only speculate whether this was connected, for example, to the baby-boom or to the rising of counterculture.

"In the USA, baby boomers grew up in the greatest period of economic prosperity of the century, whereas the British baby boomers grew up in a post-war recovery period so perhaps 'emotionalism' was a luxury of economic growth."

While the trends found in this study are very clear, their interpretation is still open. A remaining question, the authors say, is whether word usage represents real behaviour in a population, or possibly an absence of that behaviour which is increasingly played out via literary fiction. Books may not reflect the real population any more than catwalk models reflect the average body.

Dr Acerbi concluded: "Today we have tools that are revolutionising our understanding of human culture and of how it changes through time. Interdisciplinary studies such as this can detect clear patterns by looking at an unprecedented amount of data, such as tweets, Google trends, blogs, or, in our case, digitised books, that are freely available to everyone interested in them."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Bristol. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Alberto Acerbi, Vasileios Lampos, Philip Garnett, R. Alexander Bentley. The Expression of Emotions in 20th Century Books. PLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (3): e59030 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0059030

Cite This Page:

University of Bristol. "Fear factor increases, emotions decrease in books written in last 50 years." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 March 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130320212822.htm>.
University of Bristol. (2013, March 20). Fear factor increases, emotions decrease in books written in last 50 years. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130320212822.htm
University of Bristol. "Fear factor increases, emotions decrease in books written in last 50 years." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130320212822.htm (accessed September 17, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

FDA Eyes Skin Shocks Used at Mass. School

FDA Eyes Skin Shocks Used at Mass. School

AP (Sep. 15, 2014) The FDA is considering whether to ban devices used by the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Canton, Massachusetts, the only place in the country known to use electrical skin shocks as aversive conditioning for aggressive patients. (Sept. 15) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Shocker: Journalists Are Utterly Addicted To Coffee

Shocker: Journalists Are Utterly Addicted To Coffee

Newsy (Sep. 13, 2014) A U.K. survey found that journalists consumed the most amount of coffee, but that's only the tip of the coffee-related statistics iceberg. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
'Magic Mushrooms' Could Help Smokers Quit

'Magic Mushrooms' Could Help Smokers Quit

Newsy (Sep. 11, 2014) In a small study, researchers found that the majority of long-time smokers quit after taking psilocybin pills and undergoing therapy sessions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
'Fat Shaming' Might Actually Cause Weight Gain

'Fat Shaming' Might Actually Cause Weight Gain

Newsy (Sep. 11, 2014) A study for University College London suggests obese people who are discriminated against gain more weight than those who are not. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

      Technology News



      Save/Print:
      Share:

      Free Subscriptions


      Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

      Get Social & Mobile


      Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

      Have Feedback?


      Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
      Mobile: iPhone Android Web
      Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
      Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
      Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins