Facebook Researchers Manipulate News Feed to Observe ‘Emotional Contagion’

Back in 2012, Facebook researchers manipulated the News Feed items of more than 689,000 users. For a single week, the team split these users into two separate groups – one that received mostly positive News Feed items, and a second that received mostly negative News Feed items. What the researchers found was a modest “emotional contagion,” where an individual’s feelings were manipulated through their online experience.

The study, entitled Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks, was published in the journal PNAS. The research was performed by social scientists based at Cornell University and the University of California, who conducted their investigations to see if “… emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness.”

Although emotional contagion has been demonstrated in laboratory settings, the phenomenon is not as well understood when looking at social networking sites. Some research suggests real-world social networks can have a long-term impact on users’ moods, with emotional states readily transferred from one user, or group of users, to another.

Users exposed to fewer of their friends’ positive emotional expressions in their News Feed were more likely to upload posts that were negative. In contrast, those subjects that received fewer negative News Feed items were more likely to upload posts of an upbeat nature.

In concluding, the group claims their research is evidence for a massive-scale contagion that could be propagated through social networks. They also argue that non-verbal cues and face-to-face interaction is not necessary to influence someone’s emotions and trigger an emotional contagion.

The Facebook users were unwittingly involved in the study, since the researcher team did not seek permission before conducting the experiment. However, people who sign up to the social networking site must agree to its terms and conditions before gaining access; in doing so, users accept that their information may be used for “… data analysis, testing, research and service improvement.” As expected, the team behind the study say they were operating within Facebook’s data guidelines.

Jeff Hancock, a professor of communication at Cornell University, recently discussed his team’s plans for the future. Hancock says he is gearing up to examine how positive and negative emotions shape a person’s engagement in online activities; this includes “liking” and commenting habits.

James Fenner

James is an avid news researcher, collector and junkie for all things science, health and technology. As a long-time creative and technical writer, his articles detail the facts missed.

8 thoughts on “Facebook Researchers Manipulate News Feed to Observe ‘Emotional Contagion’

  • June 29, 2014 at 2:11 PM

    Emotional contagion? How dare these FB scumbags to equate a contagious disease to online behavior. I don’t use FB, primarily because I’ve always thought Zuckface had a far greater corporate narcisstic pathology than most entrepreneurs. I do believe my view has been confirmed now. In reality, this chromosomally aberrant pond scum is dangerous to society at large, and now, I also believe he has broken the law.

    However, there is a far greater threat being formulated as I type, by the Dept. of Defense. They too have equated certain groups and individuals with views that are deemed terrorist in nature, as “social contagions that will cause civil unrest”. And they are doing it by using YOUR tax dollars to fund university research.


    Make no mistake. The DOD has now stepped over the domestic “enemy” line. This is NO DIFFERENT, than the Nazi party did when they declared Jews the enemy of the German State. It’s time to rein in the whole MIC apparatus as they have now become..well..OUR enemy.

  • June 29, 2014 at 11:28 AM

    I will stop reading post of any kind, and play games. If that doesn’t work I’ll get off FB! I only get on here to talk to friends who do have a phone so I can get off facebook!!!!

  • June 29, 2014 at 7:23 AM

    I have never been sucked into any social network site. I can see that it can be a good means of sharing emotions and thoughts. My obvious conclusion here is that the power of the “mother” of the system has and can manipulate peoples ideas as an experiment. Just think of what would happen if the NSA (National SOCIETY Agency) gets a hold of this !

  • June 29, 2014 at 7:15 AM

    This is a very sensitive topic personally through my own investigation and observing fb tactics (and internet in general). First off, the Agreement should make clear of their data snooping and manipulation of personal information shared. But these articles are doing that now. Deliberately and secretly tampering with accounts, messages, posts and manipulating someone’s emotions is a SERIOUS issue. Many fb users won’t be bothered by it but there are people that trust fb with their personal information, personal messaging and personal sharing of photos and thinking they can feel safe to share. And having an fb employee stranger tampering and manipulating their emotions could lead to real-life devastating results. There is proof fb conducts real-life psychological experiments to unexpected account holders. The way I phrase it is “fb waters the seed” to gain reaction of the person. However, the seed could grow with devastating real-life effects. It’s a no brainier lots of negative can result in negative. So in a way, this “experiment” and the article is a joke. It’s just a defense on what fb has been doing for a very long time, effecting innocent people’s emotions that may have had very traumatic aftermath outside the account into real-life events. This article is an effort to defend what fb has been doing for a very long time. Most people who sign up to fb thinks it’s a safe place to share their personal information, because the internet needs that type of environment. I guarantee fb has blood on their hands. I observed the ads on fb throughout the years. As stated in other posts, the FB employees say “see, we were right” and they focus on the subject of the experiment and fail to highlight the tidal wave of real-life effects, a “drone” not knowing what is going on at ground zero or person’s history. The snooping is primarily done to accounts that have lots of regular activity, like 10+ visits a day.

  • June 29, 2014 at 7:14 AM

    Proof that malleable minds do exist! Facebook does not exist for the benefit of its users!

  • June 29, 2014 at 7:00 AM

    I have been railing against all the negativity and divisiveness among my friends and even “I followed” a few. Don’t have the heart to unfriend, because they truly are my friends.

    • June 29, 2014 at 7:02 AM

      I followed.

      • June 29, 2014 at 7:05 AM

        UN FOLLOWED!

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