Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Literary mood reflects the economic mood of past 10 years

Date:
January 9, 2014
Source:
University of Bristol
Summary:
The frequency of words expressing misery and unhappiness in books reflects the economic conditions in the 10 years prior to the work's composition, according to new research.

The frequency of words expressing misery and unhappiness in books reflects the economic conditions in the 10 years prior to the work's composition, according to researchers in Bristol and London.

Related Articles


The study, published today in PLOS ONE, found a strong correlation over most of the 20th century between a 'literary misery index' reflecting mood in English language books and a moving average of the previous decade of the annual US economic misery index (the sum of inflation and unemployment rates). The correlation increased when the researchers compared literary misery to an average of US and UK economy misery indices.

The researchers found that 'literary misery' correlates best with a moving average of the previous decade of 'economic misery' for the period 1929-2000.

Lead author of the study, Professor Alex Bentley of the University of Bristol, said: "When we looked at millions of books published in English every year and looked for a specific category of words denoting unhappiness, we found that those words in aggregate averaged the authors' economic experiences over the past decade. In other words, global economics is part of the shared emotional experience of the 20th century."

The researchers developed their literary index by looking at how frequently 'mood' words divided into six categories (anger, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, surprise) were used through time in a database of more than five million digitised books provided by Google. From this, they created a 'literary misery index' which was effectively the relative abundance of sadness words minus the abundance of happiness words.

They found that some periods, such as the 1980s, were clearly marked by literary misery, others by relative joy. "It looked like Western economic history," noted Professor Bentley, "but just shifted forward by a decade."

Co-author, Dr Alberto Acerbi added: "Economic misery coincides with WW1 (1918), the aftermath of the Great Depression (1935) and the energy crisis (1975). But in each case, the literary response lags by about a decade, such that authors are averaging experiences over that decade."

Professor Bentley continued: "Perhaps this 'decade effect' reflects the gap between childhood when strong memories are formed, and early adulthood, when authors may begin writing books. Consider for example, the dramatic increase of literary misery in the 1980s, which follows the 'stagflation' of the 1970s. Children from this generation who became authors would have begun writing in the 1980s."

To check the robustness of the results, the researchers also analysed books written in German. Co-author Paul Ormerod, an economist in London, said: "We were still very cautious about spurious correlations at this point but then we found virtually the same results for German economic vs. literary misery.

"The results suggest quite clearly that, contrary to post-modern literary theory, literature serves a purpose. It informs people about the human condition, and the content adapts to the conditions of the time."

Dr Vasileios Lampos, a postdoctoral computer scientist from UCL, said: "The best correlation window (10 to 11 years) is robust across our analysis. We confirmed it on various corpora, including books written in English and German, and with different tools for extracting emotional content from books."


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. R. Alexander Bentley, Alberto Acerbi, Paul Ormerod, Vasileios Lampos. Books Average Previous Decade of Economic Misery. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (1): e83147 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0083147

Cite This Page:

University of Bristol. "Literary mood reflects the economic mood of past 10 years." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 January 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140109004155.htm>.
University of Bristol. (2014, January 9). Literary mood reflects the economic mood of past 10 years. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140109004155.htm
University of Bristol. "Literary mood reflects the economic mood of past 10 years." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140109004155.htm (accessed November 23, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) Researchers in Beijing discovered a gene called 5-HTA1, and carriers are reportedly 20 percent more likely to be single. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Milestone Birthdays Can Bring Existential Crisis, Study Says

Milestone Birthdays Can Bring Existential Crisis, Study Says

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) Researchers find that as people approach new decades in their lives they make bigger life decisions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
You Don't Have To Be Alcohol Dependent To Need Treatment

You Don't Have To Be Alcohol Dependent To Need Treatment

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found 9 out of 10 excessive drinkers in the country are not alcohol dependent. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Your Complicated Job Might Keep Your Brain Young

Your Complicated Job Might Keep Your Brain Young

Newsy (Nov. 20, 2014) Researchers at the University of Edinburgh found the more complex your job is, the sharper your cognitive skills will likely be as you age. 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