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 October 21, 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 October 21, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

Newsy (Oct. 21, 2014) A medical team has for the first time given a man the ability to walk again after transplanting cells from his brain onto his severed spinal cord. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Portable Breathalyzer Gets You Home Safely

Portable Breathalyzer Gets You Home Safely

Buzz60 (Oct. 21, 2014) Breeze, a portable breathalyzer, gets you home safely by instantly showing your blood alcohol content, and with one tap, lets you call an Uber, a cab or a friend from your contact list to pick you up. Sean Dowling (@SeanDowlingTV) has the details. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Your Birth Season Might Determine Your Temperament

Your Birth Season Might Determine Your Temperament

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) A new study says the season you're born in can determine your temperament — and one season has a surprising outcome. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Movies Might Desensitize Violence For Parents, Not Just Kids

Movies Might Desensitize Violence For Parents, Not Just Kids

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) A study suggests that parents become desensitized to violent movies as well as children, which leads them to allow their kids to view violent films. 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:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

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