Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks

Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks

  1. Adam D. I. Kramera,1
  2. Jamie E. Guilloryb, and 
  3. Jeffrey T. Hancockc,d
  1. aCore Data Science Team, Facebook, Inc., Menlo Park, CA 94025;

  2. bCenter for Tobacco Control Research and Education, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94143; and

  3. Departments of cCommunication and

  4. dInformation Science, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853

  1. Edited by Susan T. Fiske, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, and approved March 25, 2014 (received for review October 23, 2013)

Significance

We show, via a massive (N = 689,003) experiment on Facebook, that emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness. We provide experimental evidence that emotional contagion occurs without direct interaction between people (exposure to a friend expressing an emotion is sufficient), and in the complete absence of nonverbal cues.

Abstract

Emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness. Emotional contagion is well established in laboratory experiments, with people transferring positive and negative emotions to others. Data from a large real-world social network, collected over a 20-y period suggests that longer-lasting moods (e.g., depression, happiness) can be transferred through networks [Fowler JH, Christakis NA (2008) BMJ 337:a2338], although the results are controversial. In an experiment with people who use Facebook, we test whether emotional contagion occurs outside of in-person interaction between individuals by reducing the amount of emotional content in the News Feed. When positive expressions were reduced, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts; when negative expressions were reduced, the opposite pattern occurred. These results indicate that emotions expressed by others on Facebook influence our own emotions, constituting experimental evidence for massive-scale contagion via social networks. This work also suggests that, in contrast to prevailing assumptions, in-person interaction and nonverbal cues are not strictly necessary for emotional contagion, and that the observation of others’ positive experiences constitutes a positive experience for people.

 

Full Text: http://www.pnas.org/content/111/24/8788.full