What can you tell about people and their situations from only 140 characters? Quite a lot, says a new study that scanned more than 20 million tweets to study the psychological characteristics of real-world situations.
The new research from the Florida Atlantic University provides insights about the psychological experience of a typical workday or week.
The researchers were able to develop a method for automatically extracting meaningful information about the situations people experience in their daily lives from tweets. People frequently tweet about their locations, what they are doing, how they are feeling, or things they find interesting in the present moment. In other words, people tend to tweet about the situations they experience.
“Twitter is a digital stream of consciousness of its users and we wondered if we could determine the psychological characteristics of situations people were experiencing based on their tweets,” said corresponding author David Serfass. They found that people who were in situations characterized by “duty” were more likely to use words like “work” and “job”. People who were in situations characterized by adversity were more likely to use swear words.
Interestingly, people experienced on average more positivity on the weekend and more negativity during the work week. People also experienced higher levels of duty during the “9 to 5” workday and more sociality in the evenings. In terms of gender differences, females experienced higher levels of mating and more emotional situations – both positive and negative – than males, the study found.
“This research has implications for how we can use social media to understand human experience,” said study co-author professor Ryne Sherman. The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE.