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Emotions in books reflect economic misery

Fig. 1(a): Pearson's r between Literary Misery (LM) and Economic Misery (EM) for various smoothing windows, using a lagged version or a moving average over the past years.

Fig. 1(b): Literary Misery (LM) versus a moving average of the Economic Misery (EM) using the past 11 years (t=11).

In previous works, we have investigated emotion signals in English books (PLOS ONE, 2013) as well as the robustness of such signals under various metrics and statistical tests (Big Data '13).

Extending our previous research, we are now showing how emotions in books could correlate with systemic factors, such as the status of an economy (PLOS ONE, 2014). In our main experiment, we use a composite economic index that represents unemployment and inflation through the years, titled as Economic Misery (EM), and correlate it against a Literary Misery index (LM), that represents the composite emotion of Sadness minus Joy in books. We observe the best correlations, when EM is averaged over the past decade (see Fig. 1(a) & 1(b)); correlations increase for the period of 1929 (Great Depression) onwards. Interestingly, we get very similar results for books written in American English, British English and German when compared to their local EM indices (i.e. for the US, UK and Germany respectively). For more methodological details, a better presentation of all the results and an interesting discussion, where we argue that causation may be the reason behind this correlation, I have to point you to the actual paper.

Press Release: University of Bristol
Media Coverage: The Guardian, New York Times, Independent, The Conversation

Bentley A.R., Acerbi A., Ormerod P. and Lampos V. Books average previous decade of economic misery. PLOS ONE, 2014.