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A gradual rise in the use of the word "feel"

Language has become more individaulistic


Language used in modern books reveals how society has become more materialistic and selfish in the past 200 years, according to a new study. The way in which the English language and word use changes over time says a lot about how we have become more self-centered, according to a new UCLA study.

A research team led by psychologist Patricia Greenfield found that more than 1.5 million American and British books published between 1800 and 2000, paying attention to word frequency and usage in comparison to cultural values. The increase and decrease of certain words, she said reveals how society has responded to major historical shift and become more individualistic.

The research shows that there has been a two-century-long historical shift toward individualistic psychological functioning adapted to an urban environment and away from psychological functioning adapted to a rural environment," said Greenfield, according to a UCLA news release of the study.

The patters of words are also reflective of historical events. The usage of "get" declined between 1940 and the 1960s before rising again in the 1970s, which Greenfield notes is reflective of a decline of self-interest during World War II and the civil rights movement.

The research also shows a gradual rise in the use of the word "feel" and decline in the use of "act." The study suggests this is due to a focus toward inner mental life and away from outward behavior. The shifts in language would indicate how US and British society has grown more selfish as it has grown wealthier

The importance of obedience to authority also seems to have faded. Writers are less likely to use "obedience," "authority," "belong" and "pray," the study found. On the other hand, the words "child," "unique," "individual" and "self" became more common over the past two centuries.

Professor Greenfield, whose work is published in the journal Psychological Science, used Google’s Ngram Viewer to count word frequencies in 1,160,000 books by US authors. The software allows users to rapidly count the numbers of words in books.

These included novels, non-fiction titles and textbooks.

She then did the same with 350,000 books published in the UK before repeating the tests with synonyms for each target word.

Greenfield hopes to find similar connections using Google Books´ Spanish, French, Russian and Chinese databases.

Other studies that have tackled the connection between language and cultural values.

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