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Culturomics and the history of psychiatry: testing the Google Ngram method

  • O. P. O’Sullivan (a1), R. M. Duffy (a2) and B. D. Kelly (a2)

Culturomics is the study of behaviour and culture through quantitative analysis of digitised text. We aimed to apply a modern technique in this field to examine trends related to the history of psychiatry. In doing so, we aimed to explore the nature of the Google Ngram methodology.


Using Google Ngram Viewer, we studied Google’s corpus of over 4% of all published books and explored relevant trends in word usage.


An exponential growth in the use of ‘psychiatry’ between 1890 and 1984 was identified. ‘Sigmund Freud’ was mentioned more frequently than all other prominent figures in the history of psychiatry combined. Mentions of ‘suicide’ increased since 1820. The impact of several DSM editions is discussed.


This study demonstrated the potential application of the Ngram methodology to the study of the history of psychiatry. The role of textual analysis in this field merits careful, constructive consideration and is likely to expand with technological advances.

Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: Dr O. P. O’Sullivan, National Forensic Mental Health Service, Central Mental Hospital, Dundrum, Dublin 14, Ireland. (Email:
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Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0790-9667
  • EISSN: 2051-6967
  • URL: /core/journals/irish-journal-of-psychological-medicine
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