‘I thought, therefore I was’

Descartes would feel, I mean, show signs of being mortified if he knew that rationality increased from 1850 until the 1980s, then has been accelerating backwards ever since.

Researchers from Wageningen University and Research, and Indiana University plotted the path from rationality to sentiment by analysing language from millions of books.

From 1850, ‘reasoning’ words such as ‘determine’ and ‘conclusion’ increased, while those which capture the human experience, such as ‘feel’ and ‘believe,’ declined.

However, for the past 40 years this has been reversing and, unsurprisingly, it accelerated in 2007, with the advent of social media. The researchers found that across different languages, fact-related and collectivist language was replaced by emotional and individualistic language. ‘I’ pronouns are winning over ‘we’ ones.

The researchers also discovered the rise of sentiment over rationality extended beyond books to New York Times articles.


Political change is one theory for why sentiment edged out sense in the 1980s but nobody knows.

The soundtrack of the 1980s included The Cure, the Psychedelic Furs and Aha. Enough said.

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