By this time, I think we’ve all heard the story of the Facebook experiment that caused some people to see mostly positive posts and others to see mostly negative posts. When it was revealed the study took place without the knowledge of any of Facebook’s users, people were outrage and dismissed the study as unethical.
While I personally agree that the way information was gathered for the study was pretty sketchy, but it did yield some interesting results. The study showed that the more positive posts you see, the more positive things you’re likely to post yourself. The same went for negative posts.
According to the Pew Research Internet Project, 90 percent of people in the 18-29 age bracket use social networking sites. If we take Facebook’s study to be true, that means 90 percent of college-age people’s emotions are somewhat influenced by their virtual social network.
The study, conducted by social scientists at Cornell University, the University of California, San Francisco, and Facebook, showed that emotions spread like a contagion from one person to the next.
Nearly 700,000 Facebook users were randomly selected to be subjects in the study. Their news feeds were adjusted to show more positive or negative posts than normal. It was found that emotions, positive and negative, spread in similar ways.
Jeff Hancock, professor of communication at Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and co-director of its Social Media Lab, worked on the study. In a statement he said, “People who had positive content experimentally reduced on their Facebook news feed, for one week, used more negative words in their status updates.”
“When news feed negativity was reduced, the opposite pattern occurred. Significantly more positive words were used in people’ status updates.”
Though previous experiments had demonstrated emotional contagion in real-world situations, the Facebook experiment was the first to examine the phenomenon on social media. It seems that just viewing emotion-laden language can have an effect on your mood.
Seeing language that lacks emotion can also have an affect according to Hancock.
“We also observed a withdrawal effect. People who were exposed to fewer emotional posts in their news feed were less expressive overall on the following days,” he said.
“This observation, and the fact that people were more emotionally positive in response to positive emotion updates from their friends, stands in contrast to theories that suggest viewing positive posts by friends on Facebook may somehow affect us negatively. In fact, this is the result when people are exposed to less positive content, rather than more.”
There are plans for further research on this topic and how it applies to other parts of Facebook beyond the news feed. Until then, don’t let your social media get you down (or up) too much.
Image from Twin Design / Shutterstock.com
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