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Rainy days and Mondays: Facebook moods are ‘contagious,’ study finds

Posts that express either a positive or negative emotion can generate weather systems of their own.

“We have confirmed here that individual expression of emotions depends on what others in an individual’s social network are expressing,” conclude the study’s authors.
REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

Is this long, harsh Minnesota winter still getting you down? Well, keep it to yourself, please — at least, on Facebook.

For a new study has found that weather-instigated emotions are “contagious” on the highly popular social media website.

It’s long been known that face-to-face contact can spread a variety of emotions through socially connected networks of people, including happiness, loneliness and depression. Whether or not the same phenomenon happens through online social networks hasn’t been as clear.

This new study, published Wednesday in the open-access journal PLOS One, suggests it does.

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“We have confirmed here that individual expression of emotions depends on what others in an individual’s social network are expressing,” conclude the study’s authors. “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.”

“As a result,” they add, “we may see greater spikes in global emotion that could generate increased volatility in everything from political systems to financial markets.”

For the study, researchers from the University of California, San Diego, Yale University and Facebook, Inc., used a text analysis software program to analyze more than 1 billion Facebook status updates involving about 100 million people from 100 of the most populous U.S. cities (yes, including Minneapolis and St. Paul) between January 2009 and March 2012. The software identified all update posts that expressed either a positive or a negative emotion. (The software also protected Facebook users’ anonymity during the study, as no content was actually read by the researchers. Nor were any names revealed.)

The researchers then looked at how the status updates changed when it rained. Rainfall was chosen as an “instrument” to measure emotional content in the study because of its randomness — it can influence human emotions, but it itself is not caused by those emotions.

Using only posts that did not talk directly about the weather, the researchers found that rain had a small, but significant impact on the mood expressed by the people living in the city where it was raining. The wet weather increased negative posts by 1.16 percent and decreased positive posts by 1.75 percent.

Next, the researchers examined how those updates influenced the mood of the poster’s Facebook friends who lived in cities where the weather was dry. They found that each negative post spurred 1.29 additional downbeat ones among the poster’s friends.

But here’s the good news: Each positive post triggered an extra 1.75 similarily upbeat posts among the friends.

In other words, positive moods seem to be more contagious than negative ones.

Perhaps we Minnesotans should refrain from posting on social media until the spring thaw.

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You can read the study in full on the PLOS One website.