- News Home
17 April 2014 12:48 pm ,
Vol. 344 ,
Officials last week revealed that the U.S. contribution to ITER could cost $3.9 billion by 2034—roughly four times the...
An experimental hepatitis B drug that looked safe in animal trials tragically killed five of 15 patients in 1993. Now,...
Using the two high-quality genomes that exist for Neandertals and Denisovans, researchers find clues to gene activity...
A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that humanity has done little to slow...
Astronomers have discovered an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of a red dwarf—a star cooler than the sun—500...
Three years ago, Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University proposed that a warming Arctic was altering the behavior of the...
- 17 April 2014 12:48 pm , Vol. 344 , #6181
- About Us
Sad Poets' Society
27 July 2001 7:00 pm
It may be possible to detect suicidal tendencies in poets from the words in their poems, according to a paper published in the July/August issue of Psychosomatic Medicine. Poets who killed themselves were more self-preoccupied and isolated than a control group, the researchers found.
There are several theories about why people kill themselves: for instance, the "social integration/disengagement" model of sociologist Emile Durkheim, who theorized that a major cause of suicide was an individual's lack of bonding with others, and a more traditional model emphasizing the role of hopelessness and helplessness. Psychologists James Pennebaker from the University of Texas, Austin, and Shannon Wiltsey Stirman of the University of Pennsylvania used poetry to put these two to the test.
They selected nine American, Russian, and British poets, all but one from the 20th century, who had committed suicide, and matched each with a colleague of the same sex and nationality who lived at approximately the same time.* About 300 poems were analyzed by software called Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count, which is programmed to recognize some 70 dimensions of language, such as whether a word is a pronoun, or whether it refers to a negative emotion. The researchers tested Durkheim's integration theory by looking at references to self and others, and to communication (words like "talk" or "alone"). Hopelessness, they decided, would be marked by mentions of death and negative emotions.
Many of the control poets shared depression and other mood disorders with the ones that committed suicide, says Pennebacker: "Nonsuicidal poets are not a particularly optimistic group." But a higher number of first person singular self-references in the works of the suicidal poets suggested they were more self-preoccupied and detached from others--thus backing up the Durkheim model. Reading over Sylvia Plath, for example, who killed herself in 1963, "there's 'I's' everywhere," Pennebacker says. And near the poets' death, the word "we" became less common, signaling increasing isolation. "A tremendous amount of action is in the pronouns," he says.
One finding the authors did not expect was that the suicide group used a significantly higher percentage of sexual words throughout their careers. Whether that supports either of the two theories will have to await further research, Pennebaker says.
|* Poets in the study|
|Randall Jarrell||Robert Lowell|
|John Berryman||Lawrence Ferlinghetti|
|Sylvia Plath||Denise Levertov|
|Anne Sexton||Adrienne Rich|
|Adam L. Gordon||Matthew Arnold|
|Sarah Teasdale||Edna St. Vincent Millay|
|Hart Crane||Joyce Kilmer|
|Sergei Esenin||Boris Pasternak|
|Vladimir Maiakovski||Osip Mandelstam|