Friday, March 14, 2014

Electrical engineers help uncover emotional contagion on Facebook

If you've been following the news this week,  you'll have read about a recent UC San Diego study that found positive or negative moods spread easily online through social networks such as Facebook.

Published in PLOS ONE, the study analyzes over a billion anonymized status updates among more than 100 million users of Facebook in the United States. Positive posts beget positive posts, the study finds, and negative posts beget negative ones, with the positive posts being more influential, or more contagious.

Electrical engineering graduate student Lorenzo Coviello was a major contributor to the study, which was led by James Fowler, professor of political science in the Division of Social Sciences and of medical genetics in the School of Medicine at UC San Diego.  Coviello is a Ph.D. student working in the laboratory of electrical engineering professor Massimo Franceschetti.
(L_R) Lorenzo Coviello, Ph.D. student in electrical engineering, and his advisor, professor Massimo Franceschetti. 
The study has been getting lots of coverage in the national and international media because of what it suggests about the potential for public wellbeing.  Emotions, they write, “might ripple through social networks to generate large-scale synchrony that gives rise to clusters of happy and unhappy individuals.” And with ever more avenues for expression in a digitally connected world, they write, “we may see greater spikes in global emotion that could generate increased volatility in everything from political systems to financial markets.”

A few links to the coverage including interviews with Lorenzo and Massimo:

Wall Street Journal video interview with Lorenzo Coviello

Quartz interview with Massimo Franceschetti



USA Today

And easily the best headline from the study came from the Jacksonville, Fla.-based The Florida Times Union:

Your-sad-sack-facebook-posts-may-lead-to global-frowning

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