Facebook conducted a psychological experiment recently, using 600,000 uninformed participants. In this experiment, users’ timelines were changed to feature either positive or negative posts from their Facebook friends. Results were gathered, based on the effect the attitudes of friends’ posts had on the posts created by the chosen participants.
One might question whether or not Facebook had the right to influence users’ news feeds, and to record the emotional tone of their responses. However, Facebook had every right to conduct such an experiment, and each user agreed to it when they agreed to Facebook’s terms and conditions, which contained “internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement.”
The lead scientist in the experiment, Adam Kramer, joined the company of Facebook in 2012. In an introductory interview, Kramer said he was learning answers to the questions, “Do emotions spread contagiously?” and “What do the words we choose have to say about how we are and who we are?” He took the job because “Facebook data constitutes the largest field study in the history of the world.”
The experiment was used in a paper published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientists of the United States. A group of Facebook scientists found that the tone set by users did in fact rub off on other users. They wrote, “Emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading them to experience the same emotions as those around them.”
“When positive expressions were reduced, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts; when negative expressions were reduced, the opposite pattern occurred,” explained the team of Facebook scientists. “These results indicate that emotions expressed by others on Facebook influence our own emotions, constituting experimental evidence for massive-scale contagion via social networks.”