Good news travels by text and Twitter; bad news is more old-fashioned

In this photo taken May 18, 2012, a 'like' sign stands at the entrance of Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. Stephen Lam, Getty Images

If you can't wait to communicate good news, you can pick up your smartphone and text or tweet it to the world. But bad news is different.

A new study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior shows that people communicate emotionally charged news in different ways, with differing emotional effects.

The researchers followed the sharing habits of 300 undergraduate students at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Participants kept track of how sharing affected their emotions by keeping a daily diary in which they noted what they shared, where they shared, it and how they felt both after the event occurred and after they shared it. The researchers then characterized the news on a scale from good to bad, and coded the students' emotional state before and after sharing the news.

Nearly 70 percent of the social sharing in the study took place via some kind of media, whether it was texting, phone calls, Facebook or Twitter. This sharing was in addition to face to face interactions. People shared news of major events in their lives via more than one medium, whether that event was positive or negative.

But participants strategically chose the kind of media that best matched their psychological needs. When experiencing positive events, people preferred to share via texting and Twitter. That's because both media are easily accessible from smartphones and are nonintrusive, in that communication partners don't have to reply immediately, study author Catalina Toma, an assistant professor of communication arts at UW-Madison, explained. "When something positive happens, you want to tell it right away," Toma said in a press release.

But when experiencing negative events, people could more readily justify interrupting their friends or family and preferred using the telephone. "You often hear people say when the phone rings, it's bad news," Toma said. "Our data support that."

The researchers also found that social media sharing enhanced the emotional tone of the event. Sharing a positive event increased its positive impact. "Telling somebody makes you even happier," according to Toma.

But posting something about a negative event on Facebook will not make you feel better. Regardless of which form of media people in the study used to share bad news, they felt worse, though sharing by telephone had the smallest negative effect.

"Their negative effect got aggravated," Toma said. "Sharing makes it more real."

"Examining how people share their important personal events through new media and how they feel as a result of it is a golden opportunity to learn how humans work," she added.

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