'Twitter Rage' Study Correlates Social Stress With Fatal Heart Disease

Twitter Rage Could Be Fatal
The logo of the Internet messaging service Twitter in San Francisco, California, USA, 22 May 2013. Photo: Ole Spata/dpa
The logo of the Internet messaging service Twitter in San Francisco, California, USA, 22 May 2013. Photo: Ole Spata/dpa
Ole Spata/DPA

Twitter rage could be bad for your health.

Researchers say there is a correlation between people who are often angry on the social media site and incidence of heart disease in the United States.

The study analysed language from public Tweets sent between 2009 and 2010, and compared it to existing public data on where heart disease is most prevalent across the country.

It found that communities who frequently used 'negative' language had a greater rate of death from heart disease - indicating wider problems with stress in those areas, which could contribute to cardiological problems.

The opposite correlation was found in communities which used positive words like 'wonderful' more frequently.

The University of Pennsylvania study concluded that negative language on social media could be an indicator of death from heart problems, the Washington Post reports. The full study is published in the journal of Psychological Science.

Above: rate of heart disease as predicted by Twitter in the study [before] and the actual rate of heart disease [after]

The research is the latest attempt to use pre-existing 'big data' sets to carry out low-cost assessments of public health.

The technique aims to complement more expensive primary research, which usually involves large-scale statistical gathering, with analysis of social media posts, internet traffic stats and web search trends. By analysing where and when people are searching Google for 'flu symptoms', for instance, researchers hope to be able to quickly and accurately track the spread of an infection.

The Twitter rage study looked at Tweets sent from 1,300 US counties, and compared an automatic 'sentiment' analysis with heart disease data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The correlation matches up relatively neatly with existing studies on how stress can lead to heart disease. The hope is that scientists could study Twitter for problems directly, and inform a better use of resources to deal with the problem.

"These people are the canaries of the psychological profile of their communities," Johannes Eichstaedt, the study's lead order, told WaPo.

"So even if we both live in the most beautiful neighborhood in New York City, and I'm really, really angry and I'm on the road with you, you will get some of that anger."

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