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homophilyHappiness and other emotions have recently been an important focus of attention in a wide range of disciplines, including psychology, economics, and neuroscience. Some of this work suggests that emotional states can be transferred directly from one individual to another via mimicry and the copying of emotionally-relevant bodily actions like facial expressions. Experiments have demonstrated that people can “catch” emotional states they observe in others over time frames ranging from seconds to months, and the possibility of emotional contagion between strangers, even those in ephemeral contact, has been documented by the effects of “service with a smile” on customer satisfaction and tipping.

Based on information gathered from millions of social media users, emotions can be transferred or affect other users in the same social media sphere. This is according to a study conducted by the University of California, San Diego and Yale University titled Detecting Emotional Contagion in Massive Social Networks.”

There are significant connections online where people feel happy, lonely or depressed at the same time. There may be two reasons why emotions are passed on from one person to the next on sites like Facebook.The first is contagion where people who post a status or tweet can directly affect the emotions of others who read their emotional statement. The second is Homophily in which social media users tend to choose and add social media friends or contacts who share the same emotions with them.

The study created a mathematical formula to show how emotional expressions can be influenced in social media networks. Particularly, rainfall was used as an instrument to determine how contagion can influence emotions. Since rainfall cannot be influenced by human emotions, it adequately presents the changes in emotions among social media users and not vice-versa. Rain-induced changes were introduced to predict and reveal changes in social media users’ emotions as reflected in their status messages.

Total number of negative posts generated by a day of rainfall within a city (direct) and in other cities via contagion (indirect). Blue colors indicate higher indirect/direct effect ratio. Larger labels indicate larger population. Source PLOS OneThe information was gathered for a period of 1,180 days from Facebook users from January 2009 to March 2012. The study was approved by and carried out under the guidelines of the Institutional Review Board at the University of California, San Diego, which “waived the need for participant consent.” To protect participant confidentiality, researchers did not personally view any names of users or words posted by users, and all analysis of identified data took place in the same “secure location” on servers where “Facebook currently keeps users’ data.”

birdsStatus updates or posts were used to determine positive or negative emotions. Particular text or words would describe the post as either positive or negative. It is, however, possible for some posts to be both positive and negative at the same time, showing mixed emotions, so users are given scores for both emotions. The study was limited to Facebook users who live in the 100 most populous cities in the United States.

The researchers concluded that the emotions of users on social media can directly affect or influence the emotions of others. The average rainy day lowered the total number of positive posts by 1.19 percent while negative posts rose by 1.16 percent. More Facebook users were also found to be happy on weekends and holidays.






Contagion in Massive Social Networks

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