Historical analysis of national subjective wellbeing using millions of digitized books

Hills, T. T., Proto, E. , Sgroi, D. and Seresinhe, C. I. (2019) Historical analysis of national subjective wellbeing using millions of digitized books. Nature Human Behaviour, 3, 1271–1275-1275. (doi: 10.1038/s41562-019-0750-z) (PMID:31611658)

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In addition to improving quality of life, higher subjective wellbeing leads to fewer health problems and higher productivity, making subjective wellbeing a focal issue among researchers and governments. However, it is difficult to estimate how happy people were during previous centuries. Here we show that a method based on the quantitative analysis of natural language published over the past 200 years captures reliable patterns in historical subjective wellbeing. Using sentiment analysis on the basis of psychological valence norms, we compute a national valence index for the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany and Italy, indicating relative happiness in response to national and international wars and in comparison to historical trends in longevity and gross domestic product. We validate our method using Eurobarometer survey data from the 1970s and demonstrate robustness using words with stable historical meanings, diverse corpora (newspapers, magazines and books) and additional word norms. By providing a window on quantitative historical psychology, this approach could inform policy and economic history.

Item Type:Articles
Additional Information:A correction to this paper is available at https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-019-0781-5. This work was supported by a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award WM160074 (to T.T.H.), the Alan Turing Institute (to T.T.H. and C.I.S.), and The Center for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy at the University of Warwick (to D.S. and E.P.).
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Proto, Professor Eugenio
Authors: Hills, T. T., Proto, E., Sgroi, D., and Seresinhe, C. I.
College/School:College of Social Sciences > Adam Smith Business School > Economics
Journal Name:Nature Human Behaviour
Publisher:Nature Publishing Group
ISSN (Online):2397-3374
Published Online:14 October 2019
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2019 Springer Nature
First Published:First published in Nature Human Behaviour 3:1271–1275
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher
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