Fascinating. It’s said that we are what we eat. Recent research suggests that we may also be what we say.
It turns out the words we use on Twitter can be used to emotionally profile our communities, and even more strikingly, those profiles are significantly correlated with the frequenxy of heart attacks and heart disease.
Take a study, out last month, from a group of researchers based at the University of Pennsylvania. The psychologist Johannes Eichstaedt and his colleagues analyzed eight hundred and twenty-six million tweets across fourteen hundred American counties. (The counties contained close to ninety per cent of the U.S. population.) Then, using lists of words—some developed by Pennebaker, others by Eichstaedt’s team—that can be reliably associated with anger, anxiety, social engagement, and positive and negative emotions, they gave each county an emotional profile. Finally, they asked a simple question: Could those profiles help determine which counties were likely to have more deaths from heart disease?
The answer, it turned out, was yes. Counties where residents’ tweets included words related to hostility, aggression, hate, and, fatigue—words such as “asshole,” “jealous,” and “bored”—had significantly higher rates of death from atherosclerotic heart disease, including heart attacks and strokes. Conversely, where people’s tweets reflected more positive emotions and engagement, heart disease was less common. The tweet-based model even had more predictive power than other models based on traditional demographic, socioeconomic, and health-risk factors.