Quality & Quantity

, Volume 53, Issue 3, pp 1239–1261 | Cite as

Fear in the West: a sentiment analysis using a computer-readable “Fear Index”

  • Robert HogenraadEmail author


We tune in on fear to make it visible and detect its drifts. We collect verbal signals of coming fear burrowed in the crackles of political and other speeches by leading figures: Familiar words people use to express fear. From the EmoLex database (Mohammad and Turney in Comput Intel 29(3):436–465, 2013), we develop a computer-readable “Fear Index” to chase fear in the West. We aim a view from above to see how fear has changed, or hasn’t. We first look how valid is the “Fear Index” on texts (fearful novels and historical documents) expected to display specific profiles of fear. Then trace the trend fear follows in speeches of European leaders. The “Fear Index” decreases in the speeches and documents of European political and economic spheres (President Donald Tusk—European Council—, President Mario Draghi—European Central Bank—, and the Global Trade Alert agency). The “Fear Index” spirals upwards among humanitarian leaders (Pope Francis, the Archbishop Justin Welby, and the International Committee of the Red Cross). We record no significant change in the trend of the “Fear Index” in the speeches of President Vladimir Putin. Humanitarian and political leaders changing in counterpoint prompt questions about empathy, or lack of that, in a now bipolar West.


Sentiment analysis Fear index Computer-readable dictionaries Western history of now Computer-aided content analysis 



This study did not depend on any private or public Grant. We report no conflict of interest relevant to this research. Thanks to Yves Bestgen (Department of Psychology, Université catholique de Louvain) from his opportune comments on the manuscript. Special mention to Dr. Saif M. Mohammad and Dr. Peter D. Turney (Ottawa, National Research Council Canada) for the fortunate EmoLex database available for noncommercial use. Normand Péladeau (Provalis Research, Montreal, CA; related and suggested EmoLex and is associated to the present Fear Index project. Also to mention are generous exchanges with Dean McKenzie (Epworth HealthCare, Monash U., Melbourne). Two reviewers commented usefully on the first version of this paper. These persons and organizations did not play any part in funding, planning or designing this study.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Emeritus, Institute of Psychological SciencesUniversité catholique de LouvainLouvain-la-NeuveBelgium

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