Bad News For Internet Trolls

A new study in the journal Psychological Science found some surprising correlations between angry tweets and and AHD, a form of heart disease. Researchers took data from 148 million county-mapped tweets across 1,347 counties and set out to do the somewhat difficult task of analyzing the sentiment behind these tweets to determine which tweets were angry or driven by anger. They found that predicting prevalence of AHD mortality was actually easier to do with Twitter than more common demographic predictors like age, race, and drug and alcohol behaviors.

In an e-mail to Science of Us, one of the co-authors of the study about why we see a correlation between negative emotions on social media and heart disease. He said:

“With this kind of heart disease there should be a direct physiological link between negative experiences and artery health. Positive experiences, on the other hand, don't have a physiological link to cleaning up your arteries (they down-regulate negative emotion — that's it). So this kind of heart disease might be more sensitive to negative psychological experiences than positive ones.

While this is certainly an interesting finding, highly subjective research like this should be taken pretty lightly. While it's important to pay attention to correlations, it's also important to remember that correlation doesn't always imply causation. It's also important to remember that these researchers were analyzing emotional data from words that could have implied emotion, but behind which the people who were tweeting didn't necessarily feel that emotion. Both the definition and the feeling of anger are subjective things caused by different factors for different people.