Mood Of The Times
March 21, 2013 12:23 AM   Subscribe

The Expression of Emotions in 20th Century Books. March 20, 2013. Fear Factor Increases, Emotions Decrease in Books Written in Last 50 Years. 'We find evidence for distinct historical periods of positive and negative moods, underlain by a general decrease in the use of emotion-related words through time. Finally, we show that, in books, American English has become decidedly more “emotional” than British English in the last half-century, as a part of a more general increase of the stylistic divergence between the two variants of English language.'

'Our results also support the popular notion that American authors express more emotion than the British. Somewhat surprisingly, this difference has apparently developed only since the 1960s, and as part of a more general stylistic differentiation in American versus British English, reflected similarly in content-free word frequencies. This relative increase of American mood word use roughly coincides with the increase of anti–social and narcissistic sentiments in U.S. popular song lyrics from 1980 to 2007', 'as evidenced by steady increases in angry/antisocial lyrics and in the percentage of first-person singular pronouns (e.g., I, me, mine), with a corresponding decrease in words indicating social interactions (e.g., mate, talk, child) over the same 27-year period'.
posted by VikingSword (6 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Our upper lips must be getting ever more stiff I suppose.
posted by dng at 6:31 AM on March 21, 2013

Perhaps I missed it in the research article, but I can't find details of where they got their lists of emotional words from. In the discussion they say they use "contemporary word lists" as their measure for concluding that US writers are more emotional than UK writers, but it doesn't say what the source of these contemporary lists is. If the source of their wordlists is primarily US-based, then doesn't that open the possibility that UK writers are using a slightly different set of words to convery emotion, and their wordlist is missing some of them?, making it look like the totals are lower than they really are?
posted by talitha_kumi at 7:41 AM on March 21, 2013

This does seem problematic to me. The most effective way to display emotion in fiction writing isn't through emotion-words, but through scenes, physical details, etc. If you're using lots of emotion words, you may be telling instead of showing -- and certainly contemporary creative writing fashion is for not using a lot of emotion words, but for a more detached, observational style, but which can still be very emotional when done well.

That doesn't mean that this research isn't finding an interesting word-trend - but it may not mean what they think it means for the fiction itself.

They did mention that their word list had been used to analyse British twitter feeds.
posted by jb at 8:41 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

'Emotion' has been devalued in the past few decades. See the mocking of emo, the rise of Autotuned pop, and people in the UK and Aus using 'overly-earnest' as an insult.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:52 PM on March 21, 2013

The list might have been used to analyse British twitter feeds, but was the wordlist composed of words that exist in british twitter feeds? I probably phrased it badly and failed to communicate my meaning. I could write my own wordlist comprising three nonsense words and use that list to analyse UK twitter feeds. I'd get trivial and meaningless data as a result, but it would be a valid analysis to conclude that none of my nonsense words appeared in UK twitter feeds.
posted by talitha_kumi at 4:09 PM on March 21, 2013

I, as a half American, well I'm not sure how to feel about this myself.
posted by hypersloth at 6:13 PM on March 21, 2013

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