Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Facebook feelings are contagious, study shows

Date:
March 12, 2014
Source:
University of California, San Diego
Summary:
Emotions can spread in an online social network, a study shows. The study also demonstrated that positive emotions spread more than negative. The researchers believe their findings have widespread implications. Emotions, they write, "might ripple through social networks to generate large-scale synchrony that gives rise to clusters of happy and unhappy individuals." And with ever more avenues for expression in a digitally connected world, they write, "we may see greater spikes in global emotion that could generate increased volatility in everything from political systems to financial markets."

James Fowler, UC San Diego professor of political science and medical genetics.
Credit: Kent Horner

You can't catch a cold from a friend online. But can you catch a mood? It would seem so, according to new research from the University of California, San Diego.

Related Articles


Published in PLOS ONE, the study analyzes over a billion anonymized status updates among more than 100 million users of Facebook in the United States. Positive posts beget positive posts, the study finds, and negative posts beget negative ones, with the positive posts being more influential, or more contagious.

"Our study suggests that people are not just choosing other people like themselves to associate with but actually causing their friends' emotional expressions to change," said lead author James Fowler, professor of political science in the Division of Social Sciences and of medical genetics in the School of Medicine at UC San Diego. "We have enough power in this data set to show that emotional expressions spread online and also that positive expressions spread more than negative."

There is abundant scientific literature on how emotion can spread among people -- through direct contact, in person -- not only among friends but also among strangers or near-strangers. Little is known, though, about emotional contagion in online social networks. Yet, in our digitally connected world, Fowler said, it is important to learn what can be transmitted through social media, too.

Fowler worked on the study with Lorenzo Coviello -- a PhD student in the electrical and computer engineering department of the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. Additional coauthors of the paper are: Yunkyu Sohn, political science graduate student at UC San Diego; Adam D. I. Kramer and Cameron Marlow of Facebook; Coviello's graduate advisor, Massimo Franceschetti, also of the Jacobs School; and Nicholas Christakis of the departments of sociology and medicine at Yale University.

The researchers analyzed anonymous English-language status updates on Facebook in the top 100 most populous cities in the U.S. over 1,180 days, between January 2009 and March 2012. Researchers did not view any names of users or even the words posted by users. They relied on automated text analysis, through a software program called the Linguistic Inquiry Word Count, to measure the emotional content of each post.

To find if there's a causal relationship, the researchers needed to run an experiment. They found a natural one in rain. Rainy weather, it turns out, reliably changes the tenor of posts -- increasing the number of negative posts by 1.16 percent and depressing the number of positive by 1.19 percent.

Those are small changes but the researchers weren't after big effects. They were looking for a random variable (as rain presumably is) that they could use as an instrument to measure the effect of a change in one user's posts on the posts of their friends. To make sure that rain was not affecting the friends directly, they restricted their analysis to friends who were in different cities where it was not raining, and to make sure it was not topic contagion, they removed from their analysis all weather-related status updates.

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.

If anything, the study probably underestimates how much emotion spreads through a digital social network. "It is possible that emotional contagion online is even stronger than we were able to measure," Fowler said. "For our analysis, to get away from measuring the effect of the rain itself, we had to exclude the effects of posts on friends who live in the same cities. But we have a pretty good sense from other studies that people who live near each other have stronger relationships and influence each other even more. If we could measure those relationships, we would probably find even more contagion."

The researchers believe their findings have widespread implications. Emotions, they write, "might ripple through social networks to generate large-scale synchrony that gives rise to clusters of happy and unhappy individuals." And with ever more avenues for expression in a digitally connected world, they write, "we may see greater spikes in global emotion that could generate increased volatility in everything from political systems to financial markets."

They also suggest that their findings are significant for public wellbeing.

"If an emotional change in one person spreads and causes a change in many, then we may be dramatically underestimating the effectiveness of efforts to improve mental and physical health," said Fowler, co-author of the book Connected, "We should be doing everything we can to measure the effects of social networks and to learn how to magnify them so that we can create an epidemic of wellbeing."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California, San Diego. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Lorenzo Coviello, Yunkyu Sohn, Adam D. I. Kramer, Cameron Marlow, Massimo Franceschetti, Nicholas A. Christakis, James H. Fowler. Detecting Emotional Contagion in Massive Social Networks. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (3): e90315 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0090315

Cite This Page:

University of California, San Diego. "Facebook feelings are contagious, study shows." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 March 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140312181911.htm>.
University of California, San Diego. (2014, March 12). Facebook feelings are contagious, study shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140312181911.htm
University of California, San Diego. "Facebook feelings are contagious, study shows." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140312181911.htm (accessed October 31, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Friday, October 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Alzheimer’s Hope

Alzheimer’s Hope

Ivanhoe (Oct. 31, 2014) A new drug, BCI-838 offers new hope to halt and possibly reverse the damage of Alzheimer’s disease. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com
Studying Effects of Music on Dementia Patients

Studying Effects of Music on Dementia Patients

AP (Oct. 30, 2014) The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is studying the popular Music and Memory program to see if music, which helps improve the mood of Alzheimer's patients, can also reduce the use of prescription drugs for those suffering from dementia. (Oct. 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Techy Tots Are Forefront of London's Baby Show

Techy Tots Are Forefront of London's Baby Show

AP (Oct. 28, 2014) Moms and Dads get a more hands-on approach to parenting with tech-centric products for raising their little ones. (Oct. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Cocoa Could Be As Good For Memory As It Is For A Sweet Tooth

Cocoa Could Be As Good For Memory As It Is For A Sweet Tooth

Newsy (Oct. 27, 2014) Researchers have come up with another reason why dark chocolate is good for your health. A substance in the treat can reportedly help with memory. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins