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Twitter Can Predict Rates of Heart Disease

 

We now know that tweeting can help lower stress, but a new study from the University of Pennsylvania shows that Twitter can predict rates of coronary heart disease, a common cause of early death and the leading cause of death worldwide.

The researchers compared data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on a county-by-county basis with a random sample of public tweets and found that expressions of negative emotions such as anger, stress, and fatigue in a county’s tweets were associated with higher heart disease risk.

But don’t worry—it isn’t all doom and gloom. Positive emotional language (words like ‘wonderful’ or ‘friends’) showed the opposite—suggesting that positivity may be protective against heart disease, the study says.

“Psychological states have long been thought to have an effect on coronary heart disease," explained study author Margaret Kern, Ph.D. in a press release. "For example, hostility and depression have been linked with heart disease at the individual level through biological effects. But negative emotions can also trigger behavioral and social responses; you are also more likely to drink, eat poorly, and be isolated from other people which can indirectly lead to heart disease." (For more on heart disease, check out Why the Diseases That Are the Biggest Killers Get the Least Attention.)

Of course, we aren't talking cause and effect here (your negative tweets don't necessarily mean you'll succumb to heart disease!) but rather, the data helps researchers to paint a larger picture. “With billions of users writing daily about their daily experiences, thoughts, and feelings, the world of social media represents a new frontier for psychological research,” the press release states. Kind of incredible, huh? 

And the next time you annoy your friend with your incessant angry Twitter rants, you have an excuse: It’s all in the name of public health.

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