Sad, on Facebook? Expect Your Followers to Be, Too

We've all been saddened by the tragic stories of young people who commit suicide because of online bullying.  But did you know you can also spread depression and disappointment along with euphoria on Facebook?

A new study has found that emotions are contagious online, according to 

According to a new study by social scientists at Cornell University, the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), and Facebook, emotions can spread among users of online social networks.

“People who had positive content experimentally reduced it on their Facebook news feed, for one week, and used more negative words in their status updates,” reports Jeff Hancock, professor of communication at Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and co-director of its Social Media Lab. “When news feed negativity was reduced, the opposite pattern occurred: Significantly more positive words were used in peoples’ status updates.”

The experiment is the first to suggest that emotions expressed via online social networks influence the moods of others, the Web site notes.

Previous experiments had demonstrated emotional contagion in real-world situations – interacting with a happy person is infectiously pleasant, for instance, whereas crossing swords with a grump can launch an epidemic of grumpiness.

But those “contagions” result from experiencing an interaction, not exposure to emotion, and researchers wondered if online exposure to mood-laden text could change moods. They also wondered whether exposure to the happiness of others may actually be depressing, producing a social comparison effect.

"Facebook, with more than 1.3 billion users of every emotive disposition, and its news feed feature – in which a constantly tweaked, Facebook-controlled ranking algorithm regularly filters posts, stories and activities enjoyed by friends – proved an ideal place to start," newswise points out.

The study showed that peoples’ emotional expressions on Facebook predicted their friends’ emotional expressions, even days later.

“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,” Hancock wrote in a paper.

“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,” he added. “In fact, this is the result when people are exposed to less positive content, rather than more.”

I don't know.  I still get depressed when people dancing in party hats I wasn't invited to are posted.  But, then again, maybe I should be happy.


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