Twitter is lauded by users and marketers alike for its ability to provide a snapshot of the things people really care about — from the type of work they do to the social causes they support. But according to a new study, the platform can also tell us a lot about the state of our health.
In the study, published in the journal Psychological Science, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania set out to explore how the microblogging site can help us draw a line between psychological wellbeing and heart disease. They discovered that communities which demonstrate high levels of anger, stress and fatigue on Twitter correlated with places where people are at a higher risk of heart disease. Conversely, emotions such as excitement or optimism tended to match up with lower risks.
The team drew on a set of publicly available tweets made from 2009-2010, representing 1,300 counties across the United States. They looked for words that indicated specific emotional states—with expressions like “hate” or expletives being negative, and words such as “wonderful” and “friends” being positive. Once this analysis had been done, the researchers compared the tweeter’s geographical locations with the risk of coronary heart disease in the part of the country in which they lived.
“Psychological states have long been thought to have an effect on coronary heart disease,” Margaret Kern, an assistant professor involved with the study, told EurekAlert. “For example, hostility and depression have been linked with heart disease at the individual level through biological effects. But negative emotions can also trigger behavioral and social responses; you are also more likely to drink, eat poorly and be isolated from other people which can indirectly lead to heart disease.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean you’ll live longer by tweeting happier messages. But it’s another fascinating illustration of the power and potential future of big data.