Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania say that a “community’s likelihood for a type of heart disease — characterized by a gradual buildup of plaque in the coronary arteries of the heart” can be calculated by looking at their Twitter feeds.
Psychology graduate student Johannes Eichstaedt and his research team examined tweets from all over the country, reviewing the frequency of “negative and positive words and phrases” used in communities.
After comparing what they found with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics, they discovered “there was a direct correlation between risk for heart disease in a community and negativity of tweets.”
Counties with a higher frequency of negative language in their tweets were at higher risk for heart disease while counties with higher frequency of positive language were at a lower risk.
The researchers compared the accuracy of the Twitter model’s predictions to other traditional models that included socioeconomic factors, demographics and other health conditions such as diabetes, smoking and hypertension and found that the Twitter model outperformed the others.
Eichstaedt said the Twitter model’s success lies in its ability to provide a window into the minds of community members.
“Different models collect the same information, but Twitter layers on slivers of psychological condition,” Eichstaedt said. “The way we feel and the way we see the world affects our bodies. There are thousands and thousands of scientists looking into it.”
In addition, Eichstaedt said that using tweets as a way to gauge the emotional health of the community is cheaper and quicker than traditional methods. Whereas traditional techniques utilize tedious surveys and trips to hospitals, which can only be done on a yearly basis, Twitter provides instant access to information.
Eichstaedt does note, however, that most users of Twitter are young people, and they are not at risk for coronary issues.
But, these youth are able “to share insight into the emotional conditions of older members because they live in the same environment.”
IMAGE: Chinen Keiya/Flickr