What Your Tweets Say About You

at the New Yorker: “How much can your tweets reveal about you? Judging by the last nine hundred and seventy-two words that I used on Twitter, I’m about average when it comes to feeling upbeat and being personable, and I’m less likely than most people to be depressed or angry. That, at least, is the snapshot provided by AnalyzeWords, one of the latest creations from James Pennebaker, a psychologist at the University of Texas who studies how language relates to well-being and personality. One of Pennebaker’s most famous projects is a computer program called Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (L.I.W.C.), which looks at the words we use, and in what frequency and context, and uses this information to gauge our psychological states and various aspects of our personality….

Take a study, out last month, from a group of researchers based at the University of Pennsylvania. The psychologist Johannes Eichstaedt and his colleagues analyzed eight hundred and twenty-six million tweets across fourteen hundred American counties. (The counties contained close to ninety per cent of the U.S. population.) Then, using lists of words—some developed by Pennebaker, others by Eichstaedt’s team—that can be reliably associated with anger, anxiety, social engagement, and positive and negative emotions, they gave each county an emotional profile. Finally, they asked a simple question: Could those profiles help determine which counties were likely to have more deaths from heart disease?

The answer, it turned out, was yes….

The researchers have a theory: they suggest that “the language of Twitter may be a window into the aggregated and powerful effects of the community context.” They point to other epidemiological studies which have shown that general facts about a community, such as its “social cohesion and social capital,” have consequences for the health of individuals. Broadly speaking, people who live in poorer, more fragmented communities are less healthy than people living in richer, integrated ones.“When we do a sub-analysis, we find that the power that Twitter has is in large part accounted for by community and socioeconomic variables,” Eichstaedt told me when we spoke over Skype. In short, a young person’s negative, angry, and stressed-out tweets might reflect his or her stress-inducing environment—and that same environment may have negative health repercussions for other, older members of the same community….(More)”