Heart for Twitter
Twitter is not only a dashboard indicator of a community’s psychological well-being but can also predict rates of heart disease. In fact, the microblog captures more information about heart disease risk than many traditional factors combined, according to research from the University of Pennsylvania. It seems expressions of negative emotions like anger, stress and fatigue in local tweets are associated with higher heart disease risk. On the other hand, researchers say positive emotions like excitement and optimism are correlated with lower risk.
Can it be that simple?
“Psychological states have long been thought to have an effect on coronary heart disease," says Margaret Kern, assistant professor at the University of Melbourne, who participated in the research. "For example, hostility and depression have been linked with heart disease at the individual level through biological effects. But negative emotions can also trigger behavioural and social responses - you are also more likely to drink, eat poorly and be isolated from other people which can indirectly lead to heart disease."
“We believe that we are picking up more long-term characteristics of communities,” adds Lyle Ungar, professor of computer and information science. “The language may represent the ‘drying out of the wood’ rather than the ‘spark’ that immediately leads to mortality. We can’t predict the number of heart attacks a county will have in a given timeframe, but the language may reveal places to intervene.”