October 16, 2014 —
Your emotions may determine how you use social media…
You may remember in late June this year when Facebook came under scrutiny for a large study where it manipulated information posted on 689,000 user’s news feed and found it could make people feel more positive or negative. The problem was that this experiment was undertaken without anyone’s permission. Lawyers, media and the public alike were outraged saying this was intrusive, scandalous and disturbing. Although this may be true, the study did conclude that “Emotions expressed by friends, via online social networks, influence our own moods, constituting, to our knowledge, the first experimental evidence for massive-scale emotional contagion via social networks.” Like it or not, Facebook did indeed find that when friends’ positive posts were secretly weeded out of news feeds to varying extents, people wrote slightly fewer positive posts and more negative posts. The reverse occurred when friends’ negative posts were unknowingly removed. In both groups, people produced an average of one fewer emotional word, per thousand words, over the following week.
This brings me to a recent study from Ohio State University which suggests that when people are in a bad mood, they tend to focus on the social media profiles of those they consider less attractive, successful, or generally less well-off as a way of feeling better about themselves. Don’t worry, consent was given during this study (take note Facebook).
168 college students took part in the study where they were first put into a good or bad mood by having them take a test on facial emotion recognition. Regardless of the student’s results, they were told they were either ‘terrible’ or ‘excellent’ to put them into a bad or good mood. Afterwards all the participants were asked to review a new (fake) social media network, which included 8 individual profiles where they could freely click around. The key to the study was the eight profiles which were designed to look either attractive and successful, or unattractive and unsuccessful depending upon a career success and hotness rating beneath their profile (photos were blurred so looks didn’t affect the results). When a student clicked on one of the profiles, the status updates reflected that of the profile overviews, either attractive and successful or unattractive and unsuccessful.
Overall, the researchers found that people tended to spend more time on the profiles of people with the successful/attractive theme, but people who had been put in a negative mood (due to being told they did terribly in the original test) spent significantly more time than others browsing the profiles of people who were unsuccessful and unattractive.
The co-author of the study Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick pointed out “if you need a self-esteem boost, you’re going to look at people worse off than you. You’re probably not going to be looking at the people who just got a great new job or just got married.”
These studies have shown very interesting insights into how people’s emotions affect what and how they use social media. What did you think about these findings and do you believe brands will find them beneficial?