What is it about?

We analyzed a large sample of English and French theatre plays and show that prior to both the English Civil War and French Revolution, there was a sharp rise in the frequency of words associated with prosociality, trustworthiness, and sympathy vs. words related to authoritarianism, strength and anger. Interestingly, in postrevolutionary reactionary periods, theatre characters became more stronger and more authoritarian. Finally, we also show that variations in GDP per capita partially account for these psychological changes.

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Why is it important?

Changes in political institutions are preceded by long-term shifts in the zeitgeist towards prosociality. However, support for democracy is cyclical and can crucially drop after periods of internal conflict and after economical recessions.


This article blends together digital humanities, econometrics, history and evolutionary psychology. We look back at historical cycles and found important economic and psychological determinants of support for democracy. We hope that these lessons can be used in the present and future to ensure the progress of democratic values and smooth transitions of power.

Mauricio Martins

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This page is a summary of: The rise of prosociality in fiction preceded democratic revolutions in Early Modern Europe, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, October 2020, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2009571117.
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