Facebook -- see a happy post, write a happy post?

A study from Cornell, UC San Francisco, and Facebook says the social network spreads happiness. Of a kind.

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Was Pharrell really happy singing this? PharrellVEVO/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Bring me down, my level's too high. Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof. It might seem crazy what I'm about to say.

Oh, Lordy, that's all the lyrics I can remember from Pharrell's "Happy," but I was just trying to cheer you up.

I know it'll work, because The Wall Street Journal has happily sent me to a study entitled "Experimental Evidence of Massive-Scale Emotional Contagion Through Social Networks."

It made me so happy.

It contains sentences such as: "Emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness."

Can you feel yourself experiencing the first frissons of joy? Let me continue.

The researchers were from Cornell University; the University of California, San Francisco; and Facebook. They must have become increasingly happy as they researched, examining 3 million Facebook posts, penned by 689,003 completely random people on Facebook.

What they discovered was that the greater the number of happy Facebook news stories people saw, the more happy Facebook posts people wrote.

Conversely, when people saw negative news, their language became negative too.

That's a notable aspect of the study: the researchers couldn't see the actual posts. Instead, they relied on trigger words such as "excited." This has become an almost compulsory word -- certainly in American English -- to define the minimum verbal score of potential and actual happiness.

Moreover, it may well be that people write happy posts, but that doesn't mean they actually feel happy.

Humans are quite legendary con artists, and Facebook is a fine forum to fool others into believing you're the life and soul, when you're actually feeling like pooping on the party.

Interestingly, the researchers noted that the effects on Facebook of happy contagion didn't appear as strong as they do in real-life experiments. However, they said the effects "nonetheless matter," in part because "given the massive scale of social networks such as Facebook, even small effects can have large aggregated consequences."

I ask you, therefore, to consider your feelings when you're next posting to the world's notice board.

Consider whether the happy (or sad) news all around you influences the way you express your own feelings.

Or is it possible that your Facebook news feed exists merely to project how informed, busy, sociable, and, yes, happy you're really not?

 

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