Twitter users unhappier in 2011 than in 2009 say researchers

Tweets trending towards #unhappiness in 2011

By Ian Birch

Researchers at the University of Vermont, USA, who have analysed 46 billion words tweeted by 63 million Twitter users around the globe, say a trend towards increasing happiness since 2009 has been steadily declining during 2011.

Twitter logoThese billions of words used to express what people are feeling create a view of the relative mood of large groups, the researchers say.

Mathematicians used a service provided by Amazon called “Mechanical Turk” to decipher words from “pancake” to “suicide”.  The asked users to rate, in terms of emotional response, and happiness, the ten thousand most common words in the English language.  Out of a possible score of 1-9, “laughter” was rated 8.5 and “terrorist” 1.3.

A long-term graph compiled by the researchers shows an overall drop in happiness, with various ups and downs clearly visible. The strongest up-trending days are occasions like Christmas and Valentine’s Day, but researchers say all the most negative days are shocks from outside people’s routines. Clear drops can be seen with the spread of swine flu, announcement of the U.S. economic bailout, the tsunami in Japan, and even the death of actor Patrick Swayze.

The scientists wrote in the journal PLos One:

“There is an important psychological distinction between an individual’s current, experiential happiness and their longer term, reflective evaluation of their life and in using Twitter, our approach is tuned to the former kind.”

“By measuring happiness, we’re not saying that maximizing happiness is the goal of society.  It might well be that we need to have some persistent degree of grumpiness for cultures to flourish," one of the researchers told Psych Central.

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