Can You Measure the National Mood Through Song and Blog?

Probably not, but that didn't stop a couple of University of Vermont researchers from conducting a fascinating study, as reported on in today's New York Times:

Dr. [Peter Sheridan] Dodds and Dr. [Christopher] Danforth downloaded the lyrics to 232,574 songs by 20,025 artists released between 1960 and 2007, from the Web site hotlyrics.net. From another site, wefeelfine.org, they pulled more than nine million sentences that used some form of the verb feel — as in "I feel relieved" — from 2.3 million blogs from 2005 to 2009. They also analyzed State of the Union speeches going back to George Washington's. They then rated the psychological charge, or "valence," of a significant subset of the words on a 10-point scale: from triumphant (8.82) and love (8.72) down to disgusted (2.45) and suicide (1.25).

Some of the findings were expected. Sept. 11, 2001, was rock bottom, for instance. Others were less so: the day that Michael Jackson died also lowered people's mood significantly. The high-water mark was the day President Obama was elected, when the word "proud" was predominant. [...]

The researchers also analyzed the emotional content of blogs by the age of the blogger, and they found a curious pattern. Teenagers, true to form, rated the lowest, with an abundance of "sick," "hate" and "stupid."

With advancing age the tone gradually softened, rising to a high plateau in apparent emotional well-being through the 50s and 60s, then dropping after age 70 — when the word "sick" began to reappear. [...]

As for popular music, the University of Vermont researchers found that within each genre, the emotional charge of lyrics remained stable between 1960 and 2007. But the overall trend was downward, as metal came of age in the 1970s, punk in the 1980s, and later hip-hop, each exploring darker themes more explicitly than their predecessors in the 1960s.

The low point, lyric-wise, was around 2003.

I continue to maintain that the low point in our culture remains the release (and popularity!) of the nightmarish Kevin Costner baseball pic Field of Dreams, but maybe that calls for a different research project.

Whole story here, whole study here. Reason on happiness here.

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  • ||

    I suggest that it was the brief and tumultuous pop culture dominance of Vanilla Ice.

  • Mad Max||

    If you play a death metal song backward, you hear phrases like 'don't worry, be happy,' 'hurry up, we'll be late for church,' 'respect your parents,' 'cut your hair,' and 'turn that noise down.'

  • robc||

    Im guessing Welch never say For Love of the Game.

  • Mad Max||

    If you play a sappy love ballad backward, it says 'stop mooning around and get on with your life, you crybaby.'

  • ||

    The low point, lyric-wise, was around 2003.

    I blame Will.I.Am. I can't think of anybody who's had more success while lacking ANY discernible talent. I mean, the guy's in a commercial singing with Bob fucking Dylan. Unbelievable.

  • ||

    Oh, and robc, the difference between Field of Dreams and For the Love of the Game is For the Love of the Game never tricked an entire country into thinking it was making some profound statement about baseball and life.

  • ||

    Im guessing Welch never say For Love of the Game.

    Uh, Tin Cup, people.

  • Mad Max||

    Previous researchers have already shown that if you play a country song backward, the singer gets his woman back, then he gets his dog back, then he gets his truck back.

    New research discloses that a backwards country song also contains more chilling phrases - like, 'Noam Chomsky's work shows us the truth about the American empire,' and 'I love the French post-structuralists.'

  • Art-P.O.G.||

    I blame Will.I.Am. I can't think of anybody who's had more success while lacking ANY discernible talent. I mean, the guy's in a commercial singing with Bob fucking Dylan. Unbelievable.

    Whew. I thought I was the only one who noticed Black Eyed Peas are terrible.

  • ||

    Your tax dollars at work.

  • robc||

    ClubMedSux,

    For the Love of the Game never tricked an entire country into thinking it was making some profound statement about baseball and life.

    That might be because Michael Shaara died before he finished writing it.

    However, it did make the profound statement that if you can throw a baseball good enough you get to screw Kelly Preston. It turns out that is mostly a true statement, only it is Alyssa Milano instead.

  • robc||

    Carl Pavano...Barry Zito...you dont even have to be that good. Costner's character was a lock HoFer.

  • ||

    I was thinking that the advent of "Comments" sections on web sites initiated the low point of our culture we are currently in.

  • robc||

    ...also Brad Penny and Russell Martin. And Martin only has to throw back to the mound.

  • Ska||

    Have Nick Cage and Kevin Costner done a movie together? Because that would be a truly horrific experience.


    I'll give Costner a pass thanks to Dances With Wolves and the Untouchables. Even Raising Arizona cannot spare Nick Cage.

  • robc||

    I saw Dances with Wolves in Switzerland. It was in English with French and German subtitles. Then it was in Sioux, with French and German subtitles.

    I dont speak/read French or German (or Sioux).

  • ||

    Even Raising Arizona cannot spare Nick Cage.

    Ah, but what about Vampire's Kiss?

  • <strike>strike through</strike||

    Cab | August 4, 2009, 10:57am | #

    I was thinking that the advent of "Comments" sections on web sites initiated the low point


    It's not polite to mention that.
    Not that your point is not a valid one.
    At least we're more smarter than YouTube!

  • ||

    Uh, Tin Cup, people.

    But it had Don Johnson. It wasn't bad, if you like golf.

  • ||

    Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves gave us Costner and one of the most syrupy love songs ever.

  • Warty||

    Have Nick Cage and Kevin Costner done a movie together?

    I read this as Nick Cave and Kevin Costner. That would be AWESOME.

  • Xeones||

    Even Raising Arizona cannot spare Nick Cage.

    True, but it comes the closest.

  • Warty||

    Nicholas Cage's sins were all absolved when he remade The Wicker Man. NOT THE BEEEEEEEEES

  • ||

    None of you have seen Vampire's Kiss, it seems. Because it's great. Possibly Cage's best performance, though that isn't saying much.

    I'll give him some over-the-top credit for Face/Off, but that's probably more a product of Woo's over-the-topness.

  • hmm||

  • ||

    I have seen The Vampire's Kiss. I wanted to gouge my eyeballs out, it sucked so hard.

    Thanks for reminding me.

  • Eric H||

    I was going to read your Field of Dreams link, but mattwelch.com is blocked here at work.

    For "pornography".

    Hmmm.

  • ||

    No Bull Durham cites, yet. Surprising.

    That movie *almost* made baseball seem interesting.

  • ||

    I have seen The Vampire's Kiss. I wanted to gouge my eyeballs out, it sucked so hard.

    Well, you are a poopy-head with no taste, then. Just like Warty.

  • Warty||

    Only some of that is true.

  • highnumber||

    Costner gets a pass for Bull Durham.

    And for Mark Leyner's use of his hide in Et Tu, Babe.

  • ||

    highnumber,

    I was just trying to explain My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist to someone the other day. Unsuccessfully, of coutse.

  • ||

    you are a poopy-head with no taste

    Guilty as charged.

  • highnumber||

    It's self-explanatory!

  • Chicken Bones of Justice||

    Cage; Wild at Heart; awesome.

  • JB||

    People sure are 'proud' of being stupid.

  • robc||

    I'll give him some over-the-top credit for Face/Off, but that's probably more a product of Woo's over-the-topness.

    Face/Off was, and will be, the last John Woo movie I have seen.

    He must personally deliver me a refund+apology before I will ever watcj one of his movies.

  • Chicken Bones of Justice||

    Gotta totally disagree about Field of Dreams. It's damn near a perfect film.

    The problem, Matt, is that your soul is not dark enough. When you travel through the "heart of darkness", and become as bitter, spiteful, mean-spirited and cynical as you can be, you discover a point at which you pass through the miasma of black and encounter the blinding light of simple sentiment on the other side. Once you do that, you appreciate Field of Dreams precisely because it is brutally maudlin and manipulative. You experience a similar effect with Cinema Paradiso and the songs of Patty Griffin. Trust me.

  • ||

    come on people! face/off was an amazing movie. what better a vehicle for nick cage AND john 'i may or may not be a scientologist, but i'm still banging kelly preston' travolta

  • ||

    With advancing age the tone gradually softened, rising to a high plateau in apparent emotional well-being through the 50s and 60s, then dropping after age 70 - when the word "sick" began to reappear. [...]

    Well, duh. When you get into your 50s and 60s, you tend to have accumulated wealth, and the pressures of raising kids eases as they leave the nest. But as you go into your 70s, people tend to literally become sick as their health declines.

  • ||

    I thought I was the only one who noticed Black Eyed Peas are terrible.

    Aw, c'mon - I mean:

    What you gon' do with all that junk?
    All that junk inside your trunk?
    I'ma get, get, get, get, you drunk,
    Get you love drunk off my hump.
    My hump, my hump, my hump, my hump, my hump,
    My hump, my hump, my hump, my lovely little lumps.

    Sheer artistry! And you haven't seen it done properly until you see the Alanis Morrisette version. I get chills down my uvula just thinking about it.

  • moman||

    Sick=good the same as bad=good among the young hipsters.

    Talk to your children-yeah,yeah.

  • robc||

    banging kelly preston

    Seems to be a theme.

  • Mad Max||

    'Sheer artistry! And you haven't seen it done properly until you see the Alanis Morrisette version. I get chills down my uvula just thinking about it.'

    The best version by far was by Luciano Pavarotti.

  • ||

    Nah, the best version was Will Ferrell in Blades of Glory.

  • ||

    Oh, and Nick Cage must have sold his soul years ago to have such a lasting Hollywood career for someone with no discernable talent and not good looking at all. At least Steve Buscemi can act.

  • kinnath||

    Nick Cage must have sold his soul years ago . . .


    Uncle Frank may or may not have something to do with that.

  • Chicken Bones of Justice||

    "Chicken Bones of Justice | August 4, 2009, 12:30pm | #

    Gotta totally disagree about Field of Dreams. It's damn near a perfect film.

    The problem, Matt, is that your soul is not dark enough. When you travel through the "heart of darkness", and become as bitter, spiteful, mean-spirited and cynical as you can be, you discover a point at which you pass through the miasma of black and encounter the blinding light of simple sentiment on the other side. Once you do that, you appreciate Field of Dreams precisely because it is brutally maudlin and manipulative. You experience a similar effect with Cinema Paradiso and the songs of Patty Griffin. Trust me."

    That sure as fuck wasn't me. I don't even know what "maudlin" means.

    - Chicken Bones of Justice

  • Citizen Nothing||

    Perhaps this marks me as an irredeemable goof, but I though Cage rocked in Adaptation

  • GILMORE||

    Nicholas Cage is a good actor with horrible judgment and willingness to do whatever horrible directors tell him they want.

    I stand by this. Valley girl, raising arizona, leaving las vegas...

    True - his list of horrifyingly bad movies far outweighs his good ones. Face/Off was a new low in cinema. Some, like "Con Air" deserve a by for being so hilariously schlocky that its actually entertaining. But those Woo movies are an insult to the senses.

    Actually, the more I think about it, Cage's bad movies are like 10:1 versus his quality work. Forget my whole point. He's a dope.

    "Field of Dreams"? There are worse films... I think at the time the folksy Ray Kinsella stuff was selling well. I think Waterworld and (dear god no) Battlefield Earth still run neck and neck for the low point of cinema history.

    Field of Dreams was like a Lifetime special, really. Offensively inoffensive, but not some kind of overwrought blasphemy.

  • GILMORE||

    I will add, as a side note, that Dhex has the most interesting POV on what constitutes "quality cinema".

    He will defend Stephen Segal and Dolf Lundgren productions. And succeed! He has his own unique calculus.

  • ||

    No love for Wild at Heart?

  • BakedPenguin||

    I saw Dances with Wolves in Switzerland. It was in English with French and German subtitles. Then it was in Sioux, with French and German subtitles.



    I saw Pee Wee's Big Top on tv in Latvia. Dubbed in Latvian, with Russian subtitles. At the time, I knew enough Russian to follow along somewhat.

  • robc||

    Cage must be using Gene Hackman's agent.

    Hackman had, as far as I can tell, no ability to pick good roles from bad. Hey, if I do 4 movies a year, surely one will be good.

    I dont remember him ever being bad in anything, but he was good in some awful roles.

  • Chicken Bones of Justice||

    "No love for Wild at Heart?"

    (see 11:46 am)

  • Neu Mejican||

    Teenagers, true to form, rated the lowest, with an abundance of "sick," "hate" and "stupid."

    This creates a problem for interpretation of their results. Both "sick" and "stupid" are used to indicate that something is good in many teenager dialects...so they don't work the same as when they are used by an old fogy.

    Vampire's Kiss- epi, what was that accent he was using in that film?

  • hmm||

    Old out of touch white people are funny.

  • ||

    What? No references for either "Con Air" or "Leaving Las Vegas"? Gotta love the Malk, he is like Walken, made an entire career of playing nefarious villains and creepy psychos.

    LLV, hard to feel sorry for Cage as he gets to make out repeatedly with Elizabeth Shue. I found him to be a less than compelling drunk.

    Anyone know if the Shue sibs are still getting work?

  • Art-P.O.G.||

    I'm a huge Nic Cage fan. To me, his work in Wild at Heart, Bringing Out the Dead, Raising Arizona, Adaptation. and The Weatherman is great. It's a matter of personal taste, I suppose.

  • Art-P.O.G.||

    Oh, and good point Neu Mejican.

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