There are lots of anecdotes that portray how a careless social media post has destroyed a reputation, a career, or a romantic relationship. But can tweeting actually kill you?
Probably not. But your Twitter account may at least have a say on your risk for developing heart disease. In a study published in the renowned journal “Psychological Science”, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania (among them MAPP alum Johannes Eichstaedt, MAPP lecturer Peggy Kern, and Martin Seligman himself) have shown that Twitter can serve as a dashboard indicator of a community’s psychological well-being and can predict rates of heart disease.
They found that frequent expressions of negative emotions such as anger, stress and fatigue in a county’s tweets were associated with higher heart disease risk. On the other hand, positive emotions like excitement and optimism were associated with lower risk. Having seen correlations between language and emotional states in previous study using Facebook posts, the researchers now examined if they could detect connections between those emotional states and physical outcomes rooted in them.
Drawing on a set of public tweets made between 2009 and 2010, they used established emotional dictionaries to analyze a random sample of tweets from individuals who had made their locations available. There were enough tweets and health data from about 1,300 counties, which contain 88 percent of the USA´s population.
Eichstaedt et al. found that negative emotional language and topics, such as words like “hate” remained strongly correlated with heart disease mortality, even after variables like income and education were taken into account. Positive emotional language showed the opposite correlation, suggesting that optimism and positive experiences, words like “wonderful” or “friends,” may be protective against heart disease. In the future, this data could be used to marshal evidence of the effectiveness of public-health interventions on the community level, or serve as valuable input in the process of planning locations for new medical facilities.
While the study does not make any claims about the heart disease risk of individuals, I still suggest monitoring your Twitter timeline from time to time for prophylactic reasons. E.g., you can use the website www.tweetstats.com to obtain a free and easy overview of your tweeting behavior, for instance, a word cloud displaying your most frequently used words and hash tags.
This post kindly uses some passages from the Penn News service.