emotional influence on social media
The researchers also looked at social media, where they could see how emotions played out in real time. They focused on the unrest that emerged on Twitter following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.
After analyzing almost 19 million Twitter posts, the researchers found that Twitter users were more influenced by stronger emotions expressed by people in their social network compared to weaker and calmer reactions. They also found that when Twitter users responded to tweets that were similar in emotional intensity to their earlier reactions, the users amplified their emotions to express stronger outrage than others in their social network.
"The social dimension of emotions, particularly in response to socio-political events, is becoming increasingly important with the use of social media and people's constant exposure to the emotions of others in online platforms," wrote the study's authors, who also included Jamil Zaki, assistant professor of psychology at Stanford.
emotions as tools
Researchers have largely assumed that people's emotions get influenced automatically—in an unconscious, immediate response to other people's emotions, said Goldenberg. His team's new research challenges that perspective.
"Our emotions are not passive nor automatic," Goldenberg said. "They are a little bit of a tool. We have the ability to use our emotions to achieve certain goals. We express certain emotions to convince other people to join our collective cause. On social media, we use emotions to signal to other people that we care about the issues of a group to make sure people know we're a part of it."
Further research needs to be done in order to understand the relationship between people and their emotions. One of the next topics Goldenberg says he wants to examine further is whether the desire of people to want to see and experience certain emotions lies at the core of how they choose their network of friends and other people around them.
"It seems that the best way to regulate your emotions is to start with the selection of your environment," Goldenberg said. "If you don't want to be angry today, one way to do that is to avoid angry people. Do some people have an ingrained preference for stronger emotions than others? That's one of my next questions."