According to a study that was reported on by NPR yesterday, emotion is missing from contemporary novels.
As a scholar with a fair statistical background, my ears perked when I heard there was statistical data to backup this claim. The study, “The Expression of Emotions in 20th Century Books,” is by Alberto Acerbi, Vasileios Lampos, Philip Garnett, and R. Alexander Bentley.
Anyone willing to read this relatively short academic article will find that the results of the study suggest a decrease in “mood words” in recent novels written in English.
The methodology is impressive and exciting in terms of being able to mine massive amounts of novel data. There are suggestions that these massive collections of digitized novels can open doors into studying the “sadness”, “happiness”, and general “mood” trends from any era where there is a large amount of novels available for study.
However, I’m curious about a couple things.
First, “mood words” are never defined in the methodology. I assume “mood words” are active verbs. But I’m curious to know if this phrase includes adverbs. If so, there’s been a disturbing and hyper-correction trend against the -ly adverb. This may be causing a skew in this data.
Second, if researchers are comparing contemporary novels to all the known and digitized novels from previous generations, there is a problem of missing data. The missing data are all the terrible books that were published in the early 20th century but died away and disappeared before this study came about.
All this said, it’s an interesting study. I just wish these issues were elaborated on.