By Esther Crain
Should you disconnect for the sake of your mental health?
You know how spending time with stressed or unhappy people can put you in an anxious funk? It’s not just a face-to-face thing. Simply reading negative posts and updates on your newsfeed can drag your mood down, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
Researchers already knew that moods could be transferred from person to person during real-world interactions via the “emotional contagion” effect. And now that social networking is so popular, they decided to see if emotions could spread online, as well. So they randomly selected 689,000 Facebook users and tweaked the amount of positive and negative posts coming into each person’s newsfeed.
The result: Facebook users who had positive content decreased on their feeds used more negative words in their status updates—suggesting that the more negative emotions expressed in their feeds made them more unhappy. And users who were exposed to more positive posts expressed happier status updates. It’s the first study to demonstrate the emotional contagion effect may work digitally.
So what does this all mean—beside the fact that your friends’ messages and tweets can be a major buzzkill for you? Researchers say the flipside—that positive posts leave us feeling better—has the potential to make public health efforts more successful. But on a smaller scale, if you have a Facebook friend who has been bumming lately, consider hiding her from your newsfeed if you’re not that close. Or if that doesn’t feel like an option, send her some positive words—it just might lift her spirits.