Friday, September 30, 2011

Studies I Wish I'd Thought Of: Tweets Reveal Mood of Nation

This morning's award for best headline summary of the scientific news release of the day goes to Britain's the Telegraph: "Twitter shows we get up happy but get grumpier as day wears on" .
The Telegraph gets bonus points for including a photo of a nubile young lady in bed waking up very happy. My morning paper, USA Today, brought this Cornell University study to my attention while I drank my coffee. USA Today presented the news with this headline: Twitter used to study happiness patterns - factual, succinct, but not riveting.

My own mini-scientific survey was to "Google" the phrase "Cornell Twitter study" to see who covered this news release and how did they headline it? The Cornell study was widely reported this morning. The abstract of the Twitter study can be found in the journal Science, released today.

Abstract: "We identified individual-level diurnal and seasonal mood rhythms in cultures across the globe, using data from millions of public Twitter messages. We found that individuals awaken in a good mood that deteriorates as the day progresses—which is consistent with the effects of sleep and circadian rhythm—and that seasonal change in baseline positive affect varies with change in day length. People are happier on weekends, but the morning peak in positive affect is delayed by 2 hours, which suggests that people awaken later on weekends."

The abstract sounds much more scientifically legitimate than the news coverage which dumbs down the topic considerably. My initial reaction was that this study was one of those dumb, "wow, ya think?" academic exercises, but because we can't read the whole article, it's hard to say. The library does get Science online through EBSCO, but not full text or in hard copy. In any case, the reports of this study got my attention, even though the study results seem obvious and here I am joining all the newspapers, tweeters, bloggers, emailers, Facebookers and so on passing this news on to you, but few of us will really read the whole report or understand its significance. I find that makes me feel that my head is full of tons of useless tidbits of information and that surely leads to a grumpy start to the day.

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