Monday, May 7, 2012

Social Networks Provide New Ways to Study People

I took a short trip over the weekend to visit my grandparents. (Although it's off topic, I'm compelled to write that Grandma and Grandpa must be two of the finest people ever.) I read a lot in the airport and on the plane, which is something I don't do enough of these days. Two of the publications I read included the latest issues of the Atlantic Monthly and Scientific American: Mind, and they provided a lot of ideas for this blog.

To ease into the week, I'll start with the shortest article that I wanted to comment about. Written by Janelle Weaver in Scientific American: Mind, the piece summarizes a study by researchers at Cornell University, who studied posts Twitter posts all over the world. Their findings show that people are happier in the morning and as the day wears on, good moods go downhill. Interestingly, results are the same on the weekend, but the "bad mood" effect is delayed by about two hours. The data "suggest that sleep schedules strongly influence mood cycles."

The findings of this study are not hard to believe. It feels like the correlation between moods and sleep cycles is experienced in our home frequently. My kids and I don't necessarily get grumpier, but we can get more anxious and more emotional as the day wears on. At young elementary school ages, tears are far more likely to happen just before bed. When I was a new parent, I learned quickly that my baby needed a nap when she got fussy and inconsolable. A good night's sleep helps my outlook on life tremendously. Perhaps as adults we still have that innate tendency to experience negative feelings if we're sleepy, but we can just express our feelings in more mature ways.

I'd be curious to know if the researchers considered the reality of a person's mood and what the person actually tweets about. I'll share another article that suggests that people tend to portray a happier self than how they actually feel. If that's the case, bad moods in this study could be that much worse!

One angle about the study that I find fascinating is that the researchers say:
...that the rising popularity of online social media is allowing scientists to study human behavior in surprising new ways.
This is a use of social media that could prove to be very enlightening. And perhaps something that a layperson could do. Hmmm... Maybe I'll run a study using my Facebook friends as subjects. Another blog post idea in the making.

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