American writing is now more emotional than British writing (big data for books)

From Alberto Acerbi, Vasileios Lampos, Philip Garnett, and R. Alexander Bentley:

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., Imemine), with a corresponding decrease in words indicating social interactions (e.g., matetalkchild) over the same 27-year period.

And there is this:

As these findings appear to genuinely reflect changes in published language, a remaining question is whether word usage represents real behavior in a population, or possibly an absence of that behavior which is increasingly played out via literary fiction (or online discourse). It has been suggested, for example, that it was the suppression of desire in ordinary Elizabethan English life that increased demand for writing “obsessed with romance and sex”. So while it is easy to conclude that Americans have themselves become more ‘emotional’ over the past several decades, perhaps songs and books may not reflect the real population any more than catwalk models reflect the average body; the observed changes reflect the book market, rather than a direct change in American culture. We believe the changes do reflect changes in culture, however, because unlike lyrics of the top 10 songs, the book data are independent of book sales.

The full article is here, with other points of interest.  For instance of the major emotions coded for, disgust is the one least likely to show up in book writing.  I owe the pointer to someone or other on Twitter, but right now it is simply an open window on my computer, next to the Twitter window.


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