Johan Bollen, of the University of Indiana, together with Bruno Goncalves, Guangchen Ruan, and Huina Mao, tracked 102,000 Twitter users over six months, analyzing a total of 129 million tweets. They analyzed the emotional content of the tweets by concentrating on words that psychologists have agreed generally indicate either a happy or unhappy state of mind. Here's what they found about the happiness of those who tweet at least once a day:
- Twitter is a 'moderately happy' place. That's surprising in itself, especially given recent research questioning whether another social network, facebook, actually makes people sad. The researchers say Twitter may even be happier than it appears, since the database of words they use to guage mood contains significantly more negative words than positive ones.
- Twitter 'friends'--those who follow each other and send each other messages through the service--tend to be of similar levels of happiness. There are lots of links between happy people, and lots of links between people who are all unhappy, with very little back-and-forth between those who are happy and those who are not.
Who's Happy First?
Bollen and his colleagues can't say for sure if there is a cause-and-effect relationship at work here. They suggest a few possible explanations:
- Like seeks out like. Even within the confines of Twitter, people might tend to seek out those who share their temperament.
- Happiness is contagious. A cheery Twitter message could be enough to boost a reader's spirits, making their own tweets cheerier.
- Emoticons no longer seem silly. As a Twitter user's 'neighborhood' becomes happier, this may encourage their own expression of sentiment. In other words, if you're reading tweets with lots of smileys, "love" and "thanks" in them, it might seem more reasonable to include them in your own tweets as well.
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Kimberly Weisul is a freelance writer, editor and consultant. Follow her at www.twitter.com/weisul.