“Expression of emotion in books declined during 20th century”

Credit: Wikipedia/CC
Credit: Wikipedia/CC

A recent study has found that books written in the 20th century show less emotion than those of previous centuries.  Phys.org has a report on the research that, “Looked at how frequently ‘mood’ words were used through time in a database of more than five million digitised books provided by google.”

Here are the results:

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.

Lead author, Dr. Alberto Acerbi, a Newton Fellow in the Department of Archeology and Anthropology at the University of Bristol is quoted about the study:

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.”

The article also states that the expression of emotion overall has decreased, “With the exception of words associated with fear, an emotion which has resurged over the past decades.”

A “distinct stylistic divergence” has occurred between American and British English since the 1960’s, the study finds:

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’).


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