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Do Anger-Prone Communities Suffer More Heart Disease? A Striking Big Data Finding

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Originally posted on April 14, 2015.

As most introductory psychology students learn, negative emotions often affect health. And persistent anger can lash out at one’s own heart.

Might negative emotions, such as anger, also be risk factors for entire communities? In an amazing study in the February Psychological Science, Johannes Eichstaedt and thirteen collaborators ascertained heart disease rates for each of 1,347 U.S. counties. They also obtained from Twitter 148 million county-identified tweets from these 1,347 counties.

Their finding: a county’s preponderance of negative emotion words (such as “angry,” “hate,” and various curse words) predicted its heart disease deaths “significantly better than did a model that combined 10 common demographic, socioeconomic, and health risk factors, including smoking, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.” A preponderance of positive emotion words (such as “great,” “fantastic,” and “enjoyed”) predicted low heart disease rates.

Given that the median Twitter user is age 31, and the median heart disease victim is much older, why should Twitter language so successfully predict a county’s heart disease-related deaths? Younger adults’ tweets “may disclose characteristics of their community,” surmise the researchers, providing “a window” into a community’s social and economic environment. An anger-laden community tends to be, for all, a less healthy community, while happier makes for healthier. www.loopflorida.org.

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About the Author
David Myers has spent his entire teaching career at Hope College, Michigan, where he has been voted “outstanding professor” and has been selected by students to deliver the commencement address. His award-winning research and writings have appeared in over three dozen scientific periodicals and numerous publications for the general public. He also has authored five general audience books, including The Pursuit of Happiness and Intuition: Its Powers and Perils. David Myers has chaired his city's Human Relations Commission, helped found a thriving assistance center for families in poverty, and spoken to hundreds of college and community groups. Drawing on his experience, he also has written articles and a book (A Quiet World) about hearing loss, and he is advocating a transformation in American assistive listening technology (see www.hearingloop.org).