Facebook See, Facebook Do

Think of the last time you visited a restaurant. How was the service? Was the waiter or waitress smiling? Could you pick up on their mood? Now think carefully. At the end, was the amount of gratuity offered influenced by how he/she made you feel? Of course it was. “Service with a smile” is a social contagion phenomenon similar to “Monkey See, Monkey Do,” whereby the emotional relevant stimuli is mimicked among members during a face-to-face interaction. What hasn’t been tested yet is whether this event holds true among social networks. Until now.

Using instrumental variables regression, a tool used in economics where one variable predicts another, scientists from Yale and UCSD wanted to see if Facebook statuses in one part of the country had an impact on their friends’ in another part of the country. Anonymous Facebook posts were collected and analyzed for positive or negative words during rainy days, “thus estimating the effect of rainfall on average emotion while controlling for time and city effects and for rainfall in other cities.”

The results are engaging. On an average rainy day, the positive posts decrease by 1.19% and negative posts increase by 1.16. This might not seem like a lot, but the results are statistically significant and therefore incredibly relevant. This first finding supports the belief that feeling sad on a rainy day is emotionally expected, but never proved before because the sample size was too small. The study didn’t stop there. They also uncovered that “positive messages are more contagious than negative” and “each positive post decreases the number of friends’ negative post by 1.80%.” Positive messages during a rainy day really do make a difference!

In a recent study, Facebook users who posted their enthusiasm about voting created a ripple effect that increased voting behavior. The contagious effect also applies to the “paying it forward” occurrence, in which it is estimated that each dollar given yielded two dollars in giving by others. The present study only adds to the growing body of literature that supports emotions are contagious and social networks could contribute to global emotional synchrony.

So the next time you post a complaint about the cold weather, your broken toe or the sad state of affairs of the world – remember you are more or less responsible for the emotional well being of your entire Facebook social circle. No pressure.

ResearchBlogging.org Coviello, L., Sohn, Y., Kramer, A., Marlow, C., Franceschetti, M., Christakis, N., & Fowler, J. (2014). Detecting Emotional Contagion in Massive Social Networks PLoS ONE, 9 (3) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0090315
Coviello L., Adam D. I. Kramer, Cameron Marlow, Massimo Franceschetti, Nicholas A. Christakis & James H. Fowler (2014). Detecting Emotional Contagion in Massive Social Networks, PLoS ONE, 9 (3) e90315. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0090315