Emotional contagion via Facebook? Yes, it's a reality
Research by social scientists from Cornell University, the University of California, San Francisco and Facebook has revealed that it is possible for emotions to spread through the users of online social networks.
This means that users who have not been having a good day will be able to lift up their spirits through the posts of their Facebook friends,
The research paper, entitled Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks, was started when the team of researchers sought to prove if emotional contagion, wherein the emotions of one person has a direct influence on that of another, can be replicated online.
For one week back in January 2012, the team decreased the amount of emotional content, both positive and negative, in the News Feed of almost 700,000 users.
The results showed that emotional contagion can be found in Facebook.
"When positive expressions were reduced, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts; when negative expressions were reduced, the opposite pattern occurred," the research paper said.
To carry out the experiment, the researcher completely removed all emotional status updates on the News Feed of their selected test subjects. The test subjects experienced lower levels of expression and interaction in a "withdrawal" from status updates.
The test subjects, perhaps controversially, did not grant the researchers permission to carry on the experiment with them. This is allowed because by having a Facebook account, that means that the test subjects had consented to the data use policies of Facebook.
The data use policy of Facebook makes these experiments legal, as a clause states that the data of the network's users can be used for "internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement".
The team said that the research was within Facebook's data guidelines because the updates weren't seen firsthand by the researchers. Software was used for the identification of status updates as either positive or negative in emotion.
The research paper proves that browsing Facebook has a direct impact on a user's emotions. Users with friends that are happier in disposition will likely be happier than those that have friends that are full of negativity,
Jeff Hancock, a member of the research team and a Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences professor of communication and Social Media Lab co-director, is planning to push further research on the topic to determine the influence of emotions in status updates on online activity engagement.