[ Back to EurekAlert! ] Public release date: 20-Mar-2013
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Contact: Alex Theg
Public Library of Science

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

Newer books use fewer emotional words, but more words conveying fear increase since 1970s

The authors analyzed trends in the use of 'mood words' that convey joy, anger, fear and other emotions and found a general, overall decrease in the use of words that convey emotions. They found distinct historical periods of positive and negative moods in books that correlated with socio-political events like World War II, the Great Depression or the Baby Boom.

In contrast to the five other moods studied, words that convey fear showed an opposite trend. Words conveying fear declined in use through the early 20th century but increased markedly since the 1970s, despite the decreased use of other 'mood words'. Lastly, the authors found that books in American English are significantly more 'emotional' than British English books written after 1960.

Previous studies have shown that words used in online social media can reflect recent socio-political events, but this is the first study to reveal that the expression of moods in books can also reflect longer-term historical or cultural trends.


Citation: Acerbi A, Lampos V, Garnett P, Bentley RA (2013) The Expression of Emotions in 20th Century Books. PLOS ONE 8(3): e59030. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0059030

Financial Disclosure: This work has been conducted with the support of the Agence nationale de la recherche (ANR) (Conseil EuropeŽen de la Recherche (ERC) programme Palasiafrica (ANR-08-JCJC-0017-01). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interest Statement: This research was partially supported by the Leverhulme Trust "Tipping Points" program. A. Acerbi was initially supported by the "Uniquely Human" project funded by the Swedish Research Council, and then by a Newton International Fellowship. V. Lampos acknowledges the support from the TrendMiner project (EU-FP7-ICT n.287863). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

PLEASE LINK TO THE SCIENTIFIC ARTICLE IN ONLINE VERSIONS OF YOUR REPORT (URL goes live after the embargo ends): http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0059030

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