In a study of 689,000 of its users, Facebook discovered the key (strokes) to happiness.
We show, via a massive (N = 689,003) experiment on Facebook, that emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness. We provide experimental evidence that emotional contagion occurs without direct interaction between people (exposure to a friend expressing an emotion is sufficient), and in the complete absence of nonverbal cues.
And the methodology by which Facebook and Cornell studied “emotional contagion”?
In an experiment with people who use Facebook, we test whether emotional contagion occurs outside of in-person interaction between individuals by reducing the amount of emotional content in the News Feed. When positive expressions were reduced, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts; when negative expressions were reduced, the opposite pattern occurred. These results indicate that emotions expressed by others on Facebook influence our own emotions, constituting experimental evidence for massive-scale contagion via social networks. This work also suggests that, in contrast to prevailing assumptions, in-person interaction and nonverbal cues are not strictly necessary for emotional contagion, and that the observation of others’ positive experiences constitutes a positive experience for people.
Emotions can be conveyed by words? In print? What an exciting discovery!
One methodological note left out of the summary: the study was conducted in secret. The users had not been informed that Facebook was rearranging the news feeds they received.
Facebook says what’s the big deal? A Facebook user consents to be used by the corporation’s “terms of service.” When protests to the study were raised, corporatespeak assured us the study was vetted in its “strong internal review process.”
One of the authors of the report issued an apology. Of sorts.
Some say if you don’t like what Facebook does, don’t sign up, or get off it (if possible). Which is fine. But don’t expect the emotional contagion, once unleashed, will be confined to Facebook users.
It’s not hard to imagine how this study might be used. Fortunately, Neighbor Zuckerberg is not the sort of dude who goes about manipulating emotions for fun, profit, advertising or politics.
Hey Mark, you won’t let the NSA in on this little game, will you?