Twitter and the heart

Your eyes may well be the windows to your soul but windows can be shuttered and they are hard to view from a distance. There are no such limitations with words and countless pieces of research show that the words you voluntarily and spontaneously use are accurate guides to your psychological state. Given that is the case some researchers got to wondering whether an arena like Twitter where words are chosen on the spur of the moment might be able to reveal something about a person’s, or even a community’s, psychological status. If it could then Twitter may also be able to predict disease risk where the disease in question has proven psychological links. The findings were instructive so hold onto your hearts.

Heart disease is known to be linked to increased levels of stress. Hostility and depression have both been linked to heart disease and negative emotional states can lead to behaviour and eating patterns that are bad for the heart. So the researchers looked at public tweets made between 2009 and 2010 where the user had made their location available. In the end the researchers were using a random sample drawn from around 88 per cent of the American population. Using the location data and the words used in the tweets they then matched that with death from heart disease statistics.

The analysis showed that a trend toward using words like “hate” or expletives was strongly correlated with an increased incidence of death from heart disease even after variables like income and education level were taken into account. To strengthen the connection, the opposite also held true; an increased frequency of optimistic or positive words like “wonderful” and “friends” was associated with a decrease in rates of death from heart disease.

It is not that Twitter usage is causing the heart problems but it reflects emotional states that are bad for the heart. That may mean that Twitter could be a useful guide to heart hot spots for public health officials. Since we know that the mood of Twitter messages is contagious among friends it is also a chance for you to do something positive for your Twitter friends. So go on, tweet something wonderful today!

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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