A New Way of Looking at Old Ways: Google Ngrams

February 10, 2011

Are you familiar with Google Ngrams? If not, you may find the graphs it produces to be a very visual and interesting way to look back at terms used in psychiatry.

Are you familiar with Google Ngrams? If not, you may find the graphs it produces to be a very visual and interesting way to look back at terms used in psychiatry.

What if we could read lots and lots (millions!) of books and count how many times a work appears in print? Google Ngram Reader can do just that with all books digitized by Google dating back to the 1500s. http://ngrams.googlelabs.com/

If one looks all the way back to 1600, one can track the use of the term “lunacy,” which peaked around 1650, while “madness” started to be used in the early 1800s and somewhat tracks the use of “schizophrenia” in the 20th century. (View the graph here.)

The term “melancholic” was quite popular in the 1700s until dropping to little use in the early 1800s. The term “depressive” makes its appearance in the early 1900’s and had quite a steady increase in use during the 20th century. (View the graph here.)

The term “Bipolar Disorder” overtook the term “Manic Depressive” sometime in 1981. Since then “Bipolar Disorder” has grown about 900%, while “manic depressive” remains cited about the same amount. (View the graph here.)

“Prozac” became more popular then “Valium” sometime in 1995, following the skyrocketing trend in “Prozac” starting in the mid-1980s and the downward trend in “valium” following its’ peak in 1982.  (View the graph here.)

The term “psychopath” enjoyed popularity in the 1950’s but was surpassed by the term “antisocial” in the early 60s.  (View the graph here.)

Psychiatrists and other mental health professional should notice the increasing prevalence of these terms in the broader cultural Zeitgeist, especially when we are to be engaged in the revision of our book/catalog of maladies, the DSM-5.