Birth of the cool: a two-centuries decline in emotional expression in Anglophone fiction

O. Morin, A. Acerbi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)
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The presence of emotional words and content in stories has been shown to enhance a story’s memorability, and its cultural success. Yet, recent cultural trends run in the opposite direction. Using the Google Books corpus, coupled with two metadata-rich corpora of Anglophone fiction books, we show a decrease in emotionality in English-speaking literature starting plausibly in the nineteenth century. We show that this decrease cannot be explained by changes unrelated to emotionality (such as demographic dynamics concerning age or gender balance, changes in vocabulary richness, or changes in the prevalence of literary genres), and that, in our three corpora, the decrease is driven almost entirely by a decline in the proportion of positive emotion-related words, while the frequency of negative emotion-related words shows little if any decline. Consistently with previous studies, we also find a link between ageing and negative emotionality at the individual level.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1663-1675
Number of pages13
JournalCognition and Emotion
Issue number8
Early online date2 Dec 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2017


  • Cultural evolution
  • big data
  • demography
  • linguistic analysis
  • literature


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