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Happy for St. Patrick's Day? Your Facebook Feelings Are Contagious!

Carson Reider
Carson Reider / March 17, 2014

St-Patricks-Day-StatusAre you excited for today?

If you've shared your excitement with your social networks, chances are that you've made your friends and followers excited, too!

A study at the University of California, San Diego has figured out that moods can spread through Facebook statuses just like they do in face-to-face situations.

Detecting Emotional Contagion

It's evident in everyday life that happiness and other emotions spread between you and others when in face-to-face interactions. In their study, "Detecting Emotional Contagion in Massive Social Networks", researchers wanted to discover if massive online social networks like Facebook also exhibited this same effect.

With data from more than one billion status updates sent from over 100 million Facebook users in the 100 most populous cities in the United States, the researchers showed that "rainfall directly influences the emotional content of their status messages, and it also affects the status messages of friends in other cities who are not experiencing rainfall." (Sorry, Seattle :/ )

Is this phenomenon the digital effect of mirror neurons?

The Statistical Nitty Gritty

So, you've read the outcome of the study, but let's look at how they conducted it and their statistical results.

How: Using automated text analysis, they assessed the mood and tenor of each post to get the "emotional content."

Results: HAPPY > SAD! As mentioned above, the researchers looked at the moods of those in rainy and non-rainy environments. The researchers wrote:

So, did the change in emotional expression by the people being rained on induce a change in their friends that stayed dry? Yes. According to the study, each additional negative post yields 1.29 more negative posts among one’s friends, while each additional positive post yields an additional 1.75 positive posts among friends.
[Tweet ""According to the study, each additional negative post yields 1.29 more negative posts among one’s friends…""]
If you're familiar with Jonah Berger's STEPPS, you'll notice that our stories are public. When we read the stories of what other people are doing and how they're feeling, we’re more likely to imitate it.

Your Facebook Feelings Are Contagious

In all, positive posts begat positive posts, and negative posts begat negative ones. (<- does that remind you of all those biblical "begats"?) The study found that there is some statistically significant correlation between your mood and your friends’ moods on Facebook. Another study found the same in Twitter. When you share how you feel (happy, sad, mad, glad), it digitally spreads through cyberspace, and when it reaches your friends, they may feel it too!

So next time, pick the :) over the :(

How Are You Feeling?

Will the results of this study affect what you say on your statuses?

It appears that online social networks may magnify the intensity of "global emotional synchrony". Where else have you seen this phenomenon take shape? Arab Spring?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or in the SpeakPipe widget on the right!


Tagged With: Social Media