Authors write ‘misery’ books about ten years after an economic downturn, a study by researchers in Bristol and London has discovered. The frequency of words expressing misery and unhappiness in books reflects the economic conditions in the 10 years prior to the work’s creation i.e. from 1929-2000 ‘literary misery’ correlates best with ‘economic misery’ from the previous decade.
The economic misery index is the sum of inflation and unemployment rates for US and UK The literary index was developed by looking at how frequently ‘mood’ words divided into six categories (anger, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, surprise) were used through time in a database of more than five million digitised books provided by Google. From this, they created a ‘literary misery index’ – number of sadness words minus number of happiness words.
Lead author of the study, Professor Alex Bentley of the University of Bristol, said: “When we looked at millions of books published in English every year and looked for a specific category of words denoting unhappiness, we found that those words in aggregate averaged the authors’ economic experiences over the past decade. In other words, global economics is part of the shared emotional experience of the 20th century.” The report is published in PLOS One.