This research work assess the emotional impact caused by the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak in Italy, by analyzing the press articles published by the main national newspapers, press agencies and major web information platforms registered in Italy through the use of computational linguistics and medical intelligence.


Optimising a health emergency management pro also passes through monitoring, analysis and understanding of the emotional impact that the emergency generates on the affected population. Over the last few years, sophisticated computational linguistic analysis techniques have been developed for analyzing huge quantities of text, extracting from them a broad spectrum of subjective and emotional information from the authors of the texts. These investigation techniques, often referred to generically as "sentiment analysis", are intended to determine an author's attitude towards certain topics or the overall contextual polarity of a document. The attitude can be his judgment or evaluation, the emotional state (i.e., the author's emotional state when writing) or the desired emotional communication (i.e., the emotional effect the author wants have on the reader). The propensity of the author or authors towards many categories of daily life are also analyzed, such as extroversion or introspection, health, home, work, religion, sport, suffering, etc. etc. These techniques have a wide range of use ranging from social media, to marketing, to politics and are also applied in the medical intelligence field.


Materials and methods

The first step was to create the database on which to operate. 507 Italian newspapers (including local regional editions) and 599 news agencies and daily news platforms registered in Italy were taken into consideration. The first database created relates to the second half of 2019 and consists of approximately 37 thousand articles or press releases. The second database is that relating to 2020, the time when the epidemic arrived in Italy and in this second case about 10 thousand articles or press releases were analyzed from January 1, 2020 until March 14 2020today. The total number of articles or press releases analyzed is slightly less than 47 thousand. Considering the huge amount of data, all analyzes were carried out on the title and subtitle of the article or press release. Subsequently, a dedicated computational linguistic analysis tool was built starting from a generic dictionary, by adding specific investigation parameters related to the coronavirus epidemic in Italy (softwares Liwc and Wordstat8). The main variables analyzed refer to the following categories: emotions (total positive, total negative, optimism, anxiety, anger, sadness), temporality (past, present, future), home, work, diseases (macro category indicating how much we speak of diseases, epidemic, doctors and healthcare facilities).  



Below is a brief summary of the results referring to a selection of the categories investigated:

  • Slight reduction of positive emotions since January 2020.

  • Marked increase of negative emotions since January 2020.

  • Increased anxiety in February, which remains constant in March.

  • Anger steadily decreases.

  • Sadness increases is very significative.

  • Marked increase in the use of the pronoun "We".

  • The press is mainly focused on the present. The future is absent.

  • Increasing trend for "school and work" categories in March.

  • The press shows a greater negative emotional connotation than the Government communication in February 2020.



The negative effects of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic are not limited to the serious and evident ones in the health sector but have generated and are generating a negative psychological impact that is highlighted by the analysis work performed. In particular, the expected peak of negative emotions, if examined in detail in its components, shows how with the passage of time there is a decrease in anger associated with an increase in sadness, that is, how the resilience towards the emergency decreases.


The marked increase in the use of the pronoun "We" is associated with an increase in the feeling of group cohesion. It is a typical behaviour well explained by evolutionary psychology through which an attacked social group tries to gather forces and prepare for possible future dangers through an increase in social cohesion (i.e. "to make a group").  The analysis of the time-related aspect shows how the shock of the ongoing emergency is still so strong that in fact only the present exists. This condition constitutes a risk factor for any organization or structure since the future vision is lacking.


Finally, the analysis shows that during the month of February 2020 there was no synchronization between the emotional profile expressed by the Press compared to that of the Government since the negative emotional involvement of the Press was of a greater order.

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