Friday, 14 March 2014

“If it rains in New York, people around the country become miserable”

"For about 1.23 billion people on this planet, Facebook is there, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, in joy as well as in sorrow. But venting to Facebook creates a significant emotional ripple effect: In the social network, keeping your feelings to yourself is not an option, and curiously, positive vibes are more contagious than negative ones, according to a new study.
To measure how the emotional content of a person’s Facebook status updates might affect other users, the group of researchers (including two Facebook employees)--who published today in PLoS One--collected anonymized status updates from the 100 most populated cities in the U.S. between 2009 and early 2012. They then ran them through a software program called the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count, a generally reliable auditor of basic feelings.
Rainy days, somewhat unsurprisingly, created an outsized emotional effect: Rain increased the number of negative posts by 1.16%, and decreased the number of positive posts by 1.19%. That observation set the stage for a natural experiment: How far would emotions motivated by rain spread through the social network? If New York City’s rain-induced pathos could affect users in New Mexico, it would say something remarkable about the power of online emotional contagion.
And that’s precisely what the researchers found. “If it rains in New York, people around the country become miserable,” says study co-author Nicholas Christakis, professor of sociology and medicine at Yale University. This works in every direction, though given New York's population, it has an outsized influence. But weirdly enough, it wasn’t the negative posts that carried the most viral ability: Each positive post yielded an additional 1.75 positive posts, whereas negative posts only spread an additional 1.29."

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