On Facebook, Happiness is Contagious—It’s Proven!

Post a positive facebook status to help your friends get happier

“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,” says James Fowler, professor at UC San Diego. He and his team studied a billion Facebook status updates of more than 100 million users in order to come to this conclusion: Positive posts beget positive posts, the study finds, and negative posts beget negative ones, with the positive posts being more influential, or more contagious.

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. In our digitally connected world, it’s important to learn what can be transmitted through our online interactions too.

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 even view the words posted by users, but relied on automated text analysis to measure the emotional content of each post.

The researchers found a random variable—rain—to use as a measurement of 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.

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. Then, 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.

“It is possible that emotional contagion online is even stronger than we were able to measure,” Fowler says, “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.”

Emotions, they write, “might ripple through social networks to generate large-scale synchrony that gives rise to clusters of happy and unhappy individuals.” Let’s spread this cluster of happy individuals, shall we?

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