Keep the Sunny Side Up on Facebook


Do you avoid negative people because they bring you down? If so, you may want to avoid negative attitudes on Facebook as well. A recent study by the University of California, San Diego, found feelings shared on Facebook have a significant impact on online friends, regardless of whether those feelings are positive or negative. The study, titled “Detecting Emotional Contagion in Massive Social Networks,” was conducted by UC San Diego professor of political science James Fowler and UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering PhD student Lorenzo Coviello and was published 1n PLOS ONE.

The study analyzed over a billion anonymized status updates among more than 100 million users of Facebook in the United States. Positive posts resulted in positive responses and negative posts resulted in negative responses. According to the study positive posts has a stronger influence than negative posts.

Personally, I get the same effect from blogs written by those with bipolar disorder. I can feel up or down based on the tone of the blogs I’m reading. Most of the ones I read swing back and forth between the two just like our disorder swings us back and forth between the positive and negative. I take comfort in that. It makes me feel like I’m not alone – that there are others out there who understand. If I get a positive feeling from someone’s blog, that’s great. I’m beyond happy that they are in a good place at the moment. When a blog has a negative tone it brings me down, especially if I make a connection with the feelings the writer is expressing. While it may bring me down, I think it’s important for the author to be true to themselves and what they are feeling. Isn’t that what we blog for, the free expression of our moods? Our feelings? Our attitudes?

The blogs I avoid are the ones that are consistently negative. I make no judgment about the authors of such posts, they are only sharing their pain, but, I find their consistent expression of the negative has too much of an effect on me. I know what it feels like to be bogged down in a state of hopelessness and despair, but I’m too empathetic. I cannot afford to be brought down on a consistent basis. I feel bad, shame even, when I stop reading someone’s blog who consistently stay in that negative space. I feel like I must be there to support that individual, but It just has too much of an effect on my recovery.

The good news from the study is that positive Facebook posts are more influential than negative ones, spreading the positivity among others. Each negative post yielded 1.29 more negative posts among friends, while each positive Facebook post yielded an additional 1.75 positive posts among friends.

For someone like me, who has their Facebook window open at all times, this study is extremely important. My experience is that it’s true that positive influences have a greater impact than the negative ones. When I write a post about something that upsets me I typically get two, three, maybe five responses. However, recently I posted positive feedback from my doctor regarding some physical issues I’ve been having. Whereas I may get a few responses from a political rant, I received over thirty responses expressing happiness for my good news. I’d guess about half of those responses were from people who rarely, if ever, comment on my Facebook posts. This is not just a single anecdotal incident. I have found this to be true numerous times in the past when I’ve commented on positive events in my life.

Our study suggests that people are not just choosing other people like themselves to associate with but actually causing their friends’ emotional expressions to change,” said lead author James Fowler, “We have enough power in this data set to show that emotional expressions spread online and also that positive expressions spread more than negative.”

If an emotional change in one person spreads and causes a change in many, then we may be dramatically underestimating the effectiveness of efforts to improve mental and physical health. We should be doing everything we can to measure the effects of social networks and to learn how to magnify them so that we can create an epidemic of wellbeing.

I’ve decided, based on this study, to focus more on the positive side of things rather than the negative. Sure. I’ll have those depressive spells where it will be damn near impossible to keep a smiley face, however, when I do have the energy to focus on the positive I will seize the moment, whether it’s in a blog, on Facebook, or in direct contact with friends, family and even strangers.

There is a line in the movie, “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” in which Dolly Parton’s character says “If you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours.” It appears, whether face to face, or virtually, that Dolly’s words, simple as they may be, are something we should live by.

PUBLIC RELEASE DATE: 12-Mar-2014 University of California – San Diego news release via EurekAlert

11 comments on Keep the Sunny Side Up on Facebook

  1. I know what you mean about feeling guilty for stopping following someone’s blog who is always negative. I have to do the same to maintain my own insanity, but it always feels like I should be doing something to help or support the person. It can be very frustrating. Great post, Bradley!

  2. I do my best to keep an optimistic tone, not for others, but for myself. I’ve always been in the role of a the counselor, so it takes a lot a lot of negative to get to me. Having said that, I suspect my Livejournal folk are probably sick of me ’cause of brain dumping, hee hee.

    1. I fugure if I’m able to keep an optimistic tone for myself it will naturally spill onto others

  3. That was a very interesting post. Do you know if a “layperson” can get the article detailing the study, how it was done, variables chosen , etc? I would be interested in reading the clinical ins and outs of how the study was conducted. The same thing happens in any group of people, moods can become “in sync”.

    I have found that I tend to avoid people on Facebook that are not happy, shiny people (just kidding), but I do avoid negative people. Since my mania and depression levels are nearly equal, I am basically mixed all the time. I am neither overly positive nor overly negative.

    1. Jennifer, I had the original study. Let me dig through my notes and I’ll send it over when I find it.

  4. Great post.
    I’d like to see the actual research data as well please. So maybe if you can post a link?
    My curiosity is in what defines a positive vs a negative post? Depression, sorrow, anger (or such emotions) are not necessarily negative, in my view. But I believe the way we convey those things in relation to other persons can be.

    To be honest, I’ve recently stopped ignoring other people’s ‘bad news bits’ on Facebook because after going through a trying time in my own life, I’ve realized that sometimes people are actually reaching out for help. Those kinds of posts require an encouraging word, I feel. And contrary to what that research appears to be suggesting, I’ve forged more intimate bonds with my FB friends because of that – my inbox is actually more active than my news feed! People tend to put more trust in you when you respond to the things that other persons are afraid to even speak on. As far as rants go…well, I laugh at those but I hardly ever respond…outside of sarcasm. 🙂

    1. I posted the link to the data below. Thank you for stopping in and the compliment

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