We're all living in an age that's more interconnected than ever. With globe-spanning social networks, we can document and share our every movement, emotion, activity and, perhaps most importantly, brunch plate. But are we actually connected to the people in our social networks? Or are we just soulless, self-absorbed zombies that like to post selfies and ignore other people's lives?
Well, one recent study sides with the former, arguing that our social media posts actually do impact others' lives. The study, conducted by researchers at University of California San Diego, Yale University and Facebook, looked at how positive and negative Facebook statuses elicited emotion from the people who view them. Their conclusion: "online social networks may magnify the intensity of global emotional synchrony."
The science: For their study, the researchers looked at rainfall as a cause for emotional fluctuation: When your town is rainy, you are more likely to feel gloomy and post bleak Facebook status updates. After collecting 1 billion updates from 100 million Facebook users, the researchers ran the data through a program called Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count, which discerns emotions based on text.
What they discovered is that if your friends read your negative status, they are more likely to post negative ones as well — even if it's not raining where they are. "For every one person affected directly, rainfall alters the emotional expression of about one to two other people," the study argues.
Image Credit: PLOS ONE
"The results show that rain affects emotional expression, both positive and negative posts are contagious, and positive posts tend to inhibit negative posts and vice versa," the study adds.
Big city living: Another surprising factor in the study was the influence of big cities like New York, which had an outsized impact on Facebook users from other cities. If the rain in New York is making everyone sad, people around the country are going to feel it too. Other influential cities included Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Atlanta.
Image Credit: PLOS ONE
"The online world has opened up the possibility that we are spreading emotions in a way they were never spread before," said James Fowler, one of the researchers. "We are connected to our friend's friends, to our friend's friend's friends, who are strangers in some cases, and while it's possible that those interactions are just noise, that's not what we found."
So the next time you are feeling off, think about whether you're really having a bad day, or if you've been Facebook-incepted by your friends in New York ... those jerks.