I wonder if this is actually true

Researchers who have scanned books published over the past 50 years report an increasing use of words and phrases that reflect an ethos of self-absorption and self-satisfaction.

“Language in American books has become increasingly focused on the self and uniqueness in the decades since 1960,” a research team led by San Diego State University psychologist Jean Twenge writes in the online journal PLoS One. “We believe these data provide further evidence that American culture has become increasingly focused on individualistic concerns.”

Their results are consistent with those of a 2011 study which found that lyrics of best-selling pop songs have grown increasingly narcissistic since 1980. Twenge’s study encompasses a longer period of time—1960 through 2008—and a much larger set of data.

Here is more.


Makes sense. "Show, don't tell" has been supplanted by "Find your voice" as the most common advice to aspiring writers.

Doh! I keep giving my students the "Show me!" line. Damn Jesuits.

"Show, don't tell" advice for writers sounds like my advice to grad students, "don't go."

Also, write what you know, which isn't much when you've spent your whole life at prep schools and writer's workshops.

I would not assume people who talk about themselves a great deal, especially the ones you are mentioning, know themselves much at all...

If the latter study includes hip hop, then that could account for all of the increase in narcissism. Every hip hop song i have ever heard is entirely self absorbed. In fact, i challenge the MR readers to come up with a single hip hop song that isnt about the 'singer'.

Gangsta's Paradise, California Love, Sexy M.F., I mean I'm just thinking up stuff off the top of my head and I'm not even a hip hop fan. You should explore the genre a little more.

The Coolio portions are about himself...the great hook to that song is taken from Stevie Wonder.

Gil Scott Heron - B Movie

Or are we going to play the game where everything we like isn't really hip hop?

Probably not all hip hop counts as pop though, I'm not sure where one would draw the line.

I'm guessing you don't hear much hip-hop.

California Love and Sexy M.F. are true. But Gangsta's Paradise is pretty self-absorbed, if in a depressing sort of way.

Fight the Power is a good P.E. song.

Ill admit, i dont really know the genre too well, so there are likely tons of counter examples that ive never heard (anything by q-tip, for example). Gangsta's paradise, however, is not one of them.

Ill give you PE as well, they defn had more to say than "me, me me"

This is almost literally an example of stichomancy. One could easily draw the opposite conclusion by choosing a different list of words and phrases. This is another case of a bad methodology being used to confirm the prior biases of the methodologists themselves.

That's not fair. Any list you come up with would be suspect of this, but according to the link, "Panels recruited through the online service MTurk created lists of common words and phrases connoting either communalism or individualism." So this isn't based on the list the researchers choose.

Was the choice of the words "communalism" and "individualism" biased? Perhaps, perhaps not, but that's a less damning critique.

Suppose I scanned the historical records for references to the word "infidel" and its synonyms in Crusades-era Ottoman texts. If I found many such references, would this be evidence of a large community of Ottoman atheists?

When it comes to the ngrams data, you can always try the words you think that would throw it off and see for yourself: http://books.google.com/ngrams/

Not sure about books, but I agree about pop songs. I've been thinking for a while that whereas pop songs used to mostly be about either love or dancing, many pop songs of the last 10 years or so are about being a pop star (or about love or dancing).

A lot of oldies pop songs are about being a musician. There's that "write what you know" again.

You simply can look at the statement by Jean Twenge, “We believe..." If you take those two words out of the sentence, it conveys a fact rather than a soft psuedo-fact.

Another common miscommunication is "I feel..." which takes the place of think.

Go to the Google ngram viewer and enter

I tried to enter the direct URL for it and your filter threw it out...

That does not seem to be reflective of much. Pairings of things like "individual, community"; "individual, group"; "I, we"; "me, us" do not show any dramatic divergences.

If only we had more pop stars like this one: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2012/07/10/156557216/is-kim-jong-uns-mystery-woman-the-excellent-horse-like-lady

You can't accuse the writers of "We are Troops of the Party" and "Excellent Horse-Like Lady" of individualism.

You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everyone else, and we are all part of the same compost pile.

Wow, you can see WWI kill duty and WWII lead to the explosion in self.

"soul" trends down with "duty" and "society" goes up faster in the 60's than "self". this is not a transition from "duty" to "self" but from older, more biblical moral language to a more secular/academic moral language.

Try army vs care, and sin vs sex

So how does this affect me?

It seems like individuals had a better balance between liberties and duty to society before.

A few years ago, after working where C&W radio was often on the radio, I complained to a friend that so many of the songs were celebrations of the singers' (and by extension, the listeners') lifestyles.

I thought this was shameless pandering to the audience and quite unlike the songs I remember from back in the stone age. Gone was the guilt over cheatin' and drinkin', replaced with happy times with family and responsible beer consumption (and all the tunes sound the same these days, too)


Listen to Justin Townes Earle and William Elliot Whitmore. They are superior to any modern pop C&W.

I remember a routine Paul Stookey did during a Peter, Paul, and Mary concert showing the progression of magazines from Life to People to Us to Self. This was 15 years ago.

"'I' wonder if this is actually true."
and "I" see what you did there.

Try money, crisis, bank, stock exchange. You may be surprised.

It seems like the lyrics of most pop songs these days are basically "I'm so sexy" if the singer is female and "You so sexy" if the singer is male.

Do you think it might also be the case that more and more op-eds and blog entries (this one being the exception) begin with "I". That always raises the narcissm/sloppy writer red flag.

I don't think "thing one being the exception." I assumed that he intentionally wrote the title of this post with a tip of the hat to narcissism. If not, or perhaps regardless, it proves the point: it's certainly a narcissistic title!

Right Said Fred being a notable exception.

Tried to scan throught he comments to see if this had been mentioned, but didn't see it (apologies if I'm doubling-up on a prior comment though).

The fine folks at Language Log have weighed in on Tyler's question. I won't cross link (not sure what the policy on that is here) but Mark Liberman posts under the heading "Textual Narcissism." For anyone unfamiliar with Language Log, they're all trained linguists, and they're incredibly smart and interesting to read (Geoff Pullum, a kind of demi-god of language :-) posts frequently for them).

I tried a simple replication, and it seriously didn't seem to work out the way the Twenge et al. paper says it should -- graphs, data and code available here:

The 2011 song-lyrics study had (in my opinion) equally serious problems:

Bravo on the title of this post. :)

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