News Feeds Are Spreading Emotions Like A Virus On Social Networks

Lam Yik Fei/Getty Images

Viewing positive Facebook posts may increase positive emotions, according to a new study. And negative posts may spread negative emotions.

Social psychologist Adam D. I. Kramer and colleagues explored how changes to positive and negative content appearing in the news feeds of 689,003 Facebook users influenced the type of content created.

Emotions may unconsciously spread from one person to another in a phenomenon known as emotional contagion.

Previous experiments measuring emotional contagion were based on person-to-person interaction, leading some researchers to question whether emotional contagion depended on interpersonal interaction cues, such as nonverbal body language.

Social networks have displayed observational evidence of emotional contagion, yet experimental evidence is lacking.

In the current study, for one week in January 2012, some participants saw fewer-than-usual positive posts in their news feed, while others saw fewer-than-usual negative posts.

The authors found that participants’ subsequent Facebook post output declined by up to 3.3%, compared with those whose news feeds were not affected.

And those who saw fewer positive posts than usual produced 0.04% more negative content and 0.01% less positive content.

Likewise, those who saw fewer negative posts than usual produced 0.06% more positive content and 0.07% less negative content.

The results suggest that emotions may be able to spread through social networks, according to the authors

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