Content Analysis of Pop Lyrics for Cultural Narcissism

Mark Liberman, over at Language Log, is discussing a content analysis of pop lyrics. Are trends in cultural narcissism picked up by the changing frequency of first-person pronouns? It seems like an interesting idea, but Liberman shows that their data analysis and interpretation is lacking. The original study claims to find a steady increase in the use of first-person pronouns since 1980, but, as Mark shows, their own data points to a decline in recent years.

I’ll add data on published books from google ngrams to the discussion.

The graph above would suggest the trend in cultural narcissism is flat until the late nineties, and only then starts increasing. But maybe books are merely a lagging indicator relative to pop lyrics?

No, I’m afraid that can’t save the thesis either. Look what happens when I plot other pronouns:

Looks like a general increase in the use of pronouns in the late 1990s.

Play with the google ngrams for “me”, “mine”, “my”, “I” yourself.
Capitalizations are less common so I put them on a separate graph:“Me”, “My”, “Mine”.

“myself”, “yourself”, “yourselves”

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4 Responses to Content Analysis of Pop Lyrics for Cultural Narcissism

  1. Unfortunately, the Culturomics guys did not do much to ensure that their book collection was consistent over time in terms of genre. So it’s quite possible that the changes you observe reflect a different mix of (for example) fiction and non-fiction.

    • Michael Bishop says:

      Thanks for the comment Mark! That is really good to know. Can you point me to site or publication which has more details on the sampling?

  2. […] Tierney wrote an article in the New York Times about research I previously discussed.   The short story is that there are problems with the data analysis, demonstrated by Mark […]

  3. […] Cosma Shalizi picks apart and draws deeper lessons from the narcissism in pop-music lyrics paper here.  I previously blogged it here and here. […]

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