The Wonderful World of Social Media

Social media has given psychologists new ways to study our self-esteem and narcissism and now a recent study in also finds that we may be able to predict rates of heart disease.

From status updates to emoticons, we gain a quick understanding of a person’s happiness and frustration levels as well as their emotional intelligence.

Social media also gives us valuable knowledge and insight into the public’s emotions. Think #BlackLivesMatter or #BringBackOurGirls, etc.

And now, Tweets have benefits for the medical community.  In this particular study, the researchers found that analyzing tweets can accurately predict the prevalence of heart disease. They even believe that Twitter can serve as a better predictor of coronary heart-disease rates than factors such as smoking, diabetes, income and education, and obesity.

But, it’s not what you might think… 

It’s not the people tweeting that are the people dying. An individual’s tweets weren’t shown to predict the risk of heart disease.  Rather, collective negative tweeting in certain parts of the country corresponded to higher mortality rates in those areas. The average age of a Twitter user is far below those who are at risk of developing heart disease.

Researcher, Johannes C. Eichstaedt, says that “tweets can represent the overall negativity a community is feeling, partly as a result of environmental factors that make everyone stressed out – the same kind of environmental factors connected to higher risks for heart disease. These people are the canaries of the psychological profile of their communities.”

Their Theory 

The researchers have a theory behind this.  They have suggested that “the language of Twitter may be a window into the aggregated and powerful effects of the community context.” They point to other studies which have shown that general facts about a community, such as its “social cohesion and social capital,” have consequences for the health of individuals.

Eichstaedt believes that a young person’s negative, angry, and stressed-out tweets might reflect their environment—and that same environment may have negative health consequences for other, older members of the same community.

But, that’s just a theory.

Other researchers have cautioned about jumping to conclusions and Eichstaedt’s team is continuing to refine their work.   The researchers are now collaborating with a group that conducts epidemiological research.  Their plan is to track communities and individuals over time, instead of looking at a snapshot.

In the original study, the tweets were part of a ten percent random sample that Twitter made available for researchers between June, 2009, and March, 2010.  Eichstaedt would like to follow individuals for months and even years.  Eichstaedt is also looking to expand his research to Facebook to see if there will be similar data there as well.

I’m not the Big Data expert (or a scientist, or a researcher…) but the study does seem to make sense on a simplistic level. We are often a product of our environment. As far as big data and social media, there seems to be a great deal of potential here.

It doesn’t take much to understand how quickly our world is changing and what possibilities we might uncover as a result of such. I look forward to seeing further information on the research and to a better understanding of how they will use the data to assist communities or the medical field in the future.

Want to Know What Your Tweets Say about You?

Just for fun – You can go to and evaluate what your Tweets says about you.  AnalyzeWords is a tool developed by James Pennebaker, a psychologist at the University of Texas, who studies how language relates to well-being and personality.

With that, I think I’ll go plug in my information into AnalyzeWords to see what my tweets say about me!

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Let us know what you think!