Has social media in the USA made the printed language more emotional? The use of words in books and media with more emotional content has steadily decreased in England but increased in the USA throughout the last century, according to new research from the Universities of Bristol, Sheffield, and Durham in England. The new study just published in the journal PLOS ONE from the reveals how much more emotional language is used in books and media in America compared to England.
With today's social media, an unprecedented amount of data, such as tweets, Google trends, blogs, or, in our case, digitized books, are freely available to nearly everyone interested in them. In the past, books were harder to buy, more expensive, and many times already check out at the public library or not in the libraries in the USA. Does this 'divergence' account for emotionalism in books?
Is 'emotionalism' in books and media actually a luxury of economic growth? American English has become decidedly more 'emotional' than British English in the last half-century, say media and culture researchers. 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.
The researchers looked at how frequently 'mood' words were used through time in a database of more than five million digitized books provided by Google. The list of words was divided into six categories (anger, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, surprise) previously used by one of the researchers, Dr Vasileios Lampos, to detect contemporary mood changes in public opinion as expressed in tweets collected in the UK over more than two years.
Dr Alberto Acerbi, a Newton Fellow in the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Bristol and lead author of the paper, explains in a March 20, 2013 news release, Expression of emotion in books declined during 20th century, study finds, "We thought that it would be interesting to apply the same methodology to different media and, especially, on a larger time scale. 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."
In applying this technique, the researchers made some remarkable discoveries about the evolution of word usage in English books over the past century. Firstly, the emotional content of published English has been steadily decreasing over the past century, with the exception of words associated with fear, an emotion which has resurged over the past decades.
They also found that American English and British English have undergone a distinct stylistic divergence since the 1960s
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').
Dr Acerbi explains in the news release, "This is particularly fascinating because it has recently been shown that differences in usage of content-free words are a signature of different stylistic periods in the history of western literature." This suggests that the divergence in emotional content between the two forms of English is paired by a more general stylistic divergence.
Divergence in emotional content between the two forms of English continues to evolve: What happened to language in the sixties?
Co-author Professor Alex Bentley explains in the news release, "We don't know exactly what happened in the Sixties but our results show that this is the precise moment in which literary American and British English started to diverge. We can only speculate whether this was connected, for example, to the baby-boom or to the rising of counterculture. In the USA, baby boomers grew up in the greatest period of economic prosperity of the century, whereas the British baby boomers grew up in a post-war recovery period so perhaps 'emotionalism' was a luxury of economic growth."
While the trends found in this study are very clear, their interpretation is still open. A remaining question, the authors say, 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. Books may not reflect the real population any more than catwalk models reflect the average body.
Dr Acerbi concluded, according to the news release, "Today we have tools that are revolutionizing our understanding of human culture and of how it changes through time. Interdisciplinary studies such as this can detect clear patterns by looking at an unprecedented amount of data, such as tweets, Google trends, blogs, or, in our case, digitized books, that are freely available to everyone interested in them."
Also in another study, the media's coverage of mass shootings in the USA has created more negative attitudes toward mental illness in general
This is the first study to confirm influence of media portrayals of mass shootings involving a shooter with mental illness on attitudes towards persons with mental illness. News stories about mass shootings involving a shooter with mental illness heighten readers' negative attitudes toward persons with serious mental illness, according to a new report by the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The researchers also examined how such news stories impact support for policies to reduce gun violence. Compared to study respondents who did not read a story about a mass shooting, reading a news article describing a mass shooting raised readers' support for both gun restrictions for persons with serious mental illness, and for a ban on large-capacity ammunition magazines. The results, are published in the April 2013 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry and have important implications for advocates and policy makers who promote gun safety policy.
"The aftermath of mass shootings is often viewed as a window of opportunity to garner support for policies to reduce gun violence, and this study finds public support for such policies increases after reading news stories about a mass shooting," says lead study author Emma (Beth) E. McGinty, MS, a PhD candidate with the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, part of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, according to the March 20, 2013 news release, Media coverage of mass shootings contributes to negative attitudes towards mental illness. "However, we also found that the public's negative attitudes toward persons with serious mental illness are exacerbated by news media accounts of mass shootings involving a shooter with mental illness."
Public's negative attitudes toward persons with mental illness are exacerbated by news media accounts of mass shootings involving a shooter with mental illness
Research shows most persons with serious mental illness are not violent, and the relationship between serious mental illness and gun violence is complex and influenced by factors such as substance use. The stigmatization of people with mental illness may lead to a reluctance to seek treatment or raise other barriers to care.
McGinty and colleagues used a national online sample of 1,797 adults in the U.S., and randomly assigned respondents to four groups: a control group which did not read any news story, a group which read a news story describing a mass shooting by a person with a serious mental illness, a group which read a news story describing the same mass shooting that also described a proposal for gun restrictions for persons with serious mental illness, and a group which read a story describing the same mass shooting that also described a proposal to ban large-capacity magazines. Key findings included the following information:
- News stories describing a mass shooting perpetrated by a person with mental illness heightened negative attitudes toward persons with serious mental illness, as well as raised support for gun restriction for persons with mental illness and policies to ban large-capacity magazine. Among study respondents that read a news story describing a mass shooting, 79% supported gun policy measures with restrictions for the mentally ill, compared to 71% in the control group. Fifty-four percent of respondents who read a news story of a mass shooting thought persons with serious mental illness were likely to be dangerous, compared to 40% in the control group.
- Including information about proposed gun restrictions for persons with serious mental illness or a ban on large-capacity magazines in a news story did not affect attitudes towards the mentally ill compared with the story describing a shooting that didn't mention a policy response.
"While our study confirms news stories on mass shootings involving a shooter with mental illness contribute to negative perceptions of mental illness, our study results indicate that discussions of gun policies designed to keep firearms from individuals who have a serious mental illness do not lead to greater stigma," says study author Daniel Webster, ScD, MPH, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, according to the news release. "As states across the U.S. consider restrictions on gun access among those with serious mental illness, future research should examine whether such policies deter people with mental illness from seeking treatment."
Large degree of ambivalence found among Americans on the topic of mental illness and guns
A public opinion survey conducted earlier this year by the same researchers found a large degree of ambivalence among Americans on the topic of mental illness and guns: Almost half of respondents believed that people with serious mental illness are more dangerous than members of the general population, but less than a third believed that locating a group residence for people with mental illness in a residential neighborhood would endanger area residents. Two-thirds (61%) of respondents supported increased government spending on mental health care as a strategy for reducing gun violence.
Colleen Barry, PhD, MPP, an associate professor with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, is also an author of Effects of News Media Messages About Mass Shootings on Attitudes Towards Persons with Serious Mental Illness and Public Support for Gun Control Policies.