March 25, 2014 By Sally Wadyka
Before you go on Facebook to check out your friends’ status updates, beware of what might happen. According to new research, there’s a high probability that you’ll catch the prevailing mood online—whether it’s positive or negative. That’s right, Facebook feelings are contagious.
In a recent study published in the online journal PLOS ONE, James Fowler, professor of medical genetics and political science at University of California, San Diego expanded on previous research he’d done about contagious emotions. “We had shown that happiness spreads in face-to-face networks, and wanted to know if the same was true in this new world online,” says Fowler.
So he and colleagues used a software program to analyze status updates from 100 million Facebook users in the 100 most populous U.S. cities between 2009 and 2012. The program measured the emotional content of the posts (more than 1 billion of them) and rated each as either positive or negative. Then researchers looked at how rainy days affected posts—both those of the people living in places where it was raining and among those people’s friends in sunny cities. They found that rain not only increased negative updates, but it also led to additional negative posts in cities where it wasn’t raining.
In short, negative posts begot more negative ones, and positive posts increased positive ones. Interestingly, the positive updates were more powerful.
“We were able to show that your friends who live in different cities are affected by your mood,” says Fowler. “In fact, each happy post we write causes our friends who live in other cities to write one to two additional happy posts as well.” Meanwhile, each negative post spurred about one negative update among friends.
Want your Facebook feed to be cheerier? Here are five ways to use social media to spread positivity.
Post happy things. As Fowler puts it, “If you’re happy and you know it, write a post!”
Use the “like” button. The fact that there’s only a “like” button on Facebook (and no “dislike” one) enables the spread of positive messages, Fowler says. So if a friend posts something upbeat, give it a virtual thumbs up.
Ditch downer friends. Un-friend or hide posts from people who routinely write about the bad stuff, he says. An occasional dose of reality is one thing, but constant negativity will just drag you down.
Share fun pictures and videos, too. Words aren’t the only contagious posts, it seems. Seeing pictures and videos of our friends makes online communication more like seeing them in person. “And as virtual life becomes more real, its emotional impact increases,” Fowler says.
Take to Twitter. Facebook isn’t the only place to improve your mood online. Other research has found that positive tweets are three times more likely to be re-tweeted than negative ones.