There was an interesting article in the New Scientist, Happier people tweet together. Psychologist Johan Bollen of the University of Indiana and colleagues tracked 102,000 Twitter users over six months, analyzing the 140-character-or-less text from 129 million of their tweets with standard techniques from psychology. In other words. “they measured the emotional content of the tweets as reflected in the presence of positive or negative words from a lexicon previously established by psychologists. From this they could assess the "subjective well-being" of the users through their tweets.”
They found that happier people - those recording a high subjective well being - tended to be tweet with people who were also happier. The same was true for those who were gloomy. "It turns out that Twitter users are preferentially linked to those with whom they share a similar level of general happiness," says Bollen.
Of course there could be many explanations for these results. The researchers suggested happy or unhappy people may seek out similar people as reflected in their tweets. Another possibility as Bollen suggests, “it could be that the emotions expressed even in short tweets have an infectious quality, lifting peoples' spirits or filling them with gloom, depending on what they read.”
There have been a number of studies that indicate that people with similar states of “subjective well-being” tend to be involved in social networks in the physical world. This study suggests that that behavior may carry over to the virtual world.
In addition, sentiment analysis of text is a subjective and not yet precise art. This is true whether the analysis is done by humans or by computers. It was unclear from the article but looking at 129 million tweets must have involved some machine support. Perhaps the machines only literally looked at what they were directed at and did not make “decisions” on the sentiment.
Perhaps I will start looking at my fellow tweeters. Since I tend to tweet more about ideas that feelings and those I interact with most on Twitter do the same, there may not be real indication. I know I use terms like good read to praise a blog post but not sure if this truly a reflection of my “subjective well-being.” For the record I do tend to think of myself as a happy person with a positive outlook. I am also attracted to people with a similar orientation.
What do you think?