Some Facebook users may have unknowingly been part of “a massive experiment” studying how posts affect users’ moods.
The study was conducted through Facebook to see if moods can be transferred without face-to-face interaction. For one week (January 11- 18, 2012), nearly 700,000 news feeds were manipulated by Facebook to reduce either negative or positive posts and then monitored how users responded, according to a published study called “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks.”
Their findings of the study were published on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America’s website. They called the study “a massive experiment on Facebook” that analyzed millions of posts.
According to the research, when users were exposed to fewer positive posts, their own posts were more negative; when users were exposed to fewer negative posts, their own posts were more positive. The study also found that when users were not exposed to positively or negatively- charged posts, their own posts became less expressive.
Researchers said posts were filtered by the amount of positive or negative words used.
“Posts were determined to be positive or negative if they contained at least one positive or negative word…,” according to the study’s abstract.
After studying 689,003 Facebook users, researchers said they found that the experiment suggested one widely-believed theory may not be true.
“This observation, and the fact that people were more emotionally positive in response to positive emotion updates from their friends, stands in contract to theories that suggest viewing positive posts by friends on Facebook may somehow affect us negatively… In fact, this is the result when people are exposed to less positive content, rather than more.”
Overall, researchers claimed the significance of the study is that it suggests emotions can be transferred without face-to-face interaction, without any nonverbal cues.