Social media is acting as a platform for many things at present. Here comes a new use of the same when australian researchers discovered how social media can serve as an indicator of a community’s psychological well being and can predict rates of heart disease.
While previous studies have identified many factors that contribute to the risk of heart disease, traditional ones, like low income or smoking but also psychological ones like stress, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Melbourne, Australia, demonstrated that micro-blogging site Twitter can capture more information about heart disease.
They found that expressions of negative emotions such as anger, stress and fatigue in a county’s tweets were associated with higher heart disease risk whereas positive emotions like excitement and optimism were associated with lower risk. The research was led by Johannes Eichstaedt.
“The relationship between language and mortality is particularly surprising since the people tweeting angry words and topics are in general not the ones dying of heart disease. This means if many of your neighbours are angry, you are more likely to die of heart disease,” said Andrew Schwartz, visiting assistant professor in the School of Engineering and AppliedScience at Penn.
Researchers have long assumed that the psychological well being of communities is important for physical health, but is hard to measure. Using Twitter as a window into a community’s collective mental state may provide a useful tool in epidemiology and for measuring the effectiveness of public-health interventions.
Drawing on a set of public tweets made between 2009 and 2010, the researchers used established emotional dictionaries to analyse 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 per cent of the country’s population.
Having seen correlations between language and emotional states, the researchers went on to see if they could show connections between those emotional states and physical outcomes rooted in them.
They found that negative emotional language and words like “hate” or expletives remained strongly correlated with heart disease mortality even after variables like income and education were taken into account.
Hostility and depression have been linked with heart disease in past studies. Negative emotions can also trigger behavioural 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,” added Margaret Kern, assistant professor at the University of Melbourne, Australia. The study was published in the journal Psychological Science.