Findings of a new study suggest that emotions can be contagious on social media. Positive posts on Facebook, for instance, were found to encourage more positive posts while negative posts prompt more negative posts.
In a new study, researchers analyzed more than one billion status updates by over 100 million Facebook users in the United States from January 2009 to March 2012. They used weather records to identify which status updates were posted in cities experiencing rain and determined whether or not the posts expressed positive emotions using automated text analysis software.
The researchers observed that the rain resulted in 1.16 percent increase in negative Facebook posts and 1.19 percent reduction in the number of positive posts. More interestingly, they found that the negative posts influenced Facebook friends who were based in areas with dry weather.
"This is a new way for emotions to spread that didn't exist before," said study author James Fowler, a social scientist at the University of California in San Diego. "If it rains on your friend in New York, does it make you less happy in San Diego? The answer is 'yes'. "
The researchers also found that emotions can be contagious in the social network with negative posts spawning additional 1.29 negative posts and positive posts resulting in 1.75 more positive posts.
"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 Fowler. "We have enough power in this data set to show that emotional expressions spread online and also that positive expressions spread more than negative."
Describing their research in "Detecting Emotional Contagion in Massive Social Networks" published in the journal PLOS ONE March 12, the researchers pointed out the potential effects of emotions spreading on social media.
"These results imply that emotions themselves might ripple through social networks to generate large-scale synchrony that gives rise to clusters of happy and unhappy individuals," the researchers wrote. "As a result, we may see greater spikes in global emotion that could generate increased volatility in everything from political systems to financial markets."
The researchers also noted the implications of their findings. "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," Fowler said. "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 well being."