Happiness is viral!

a picture of facebook like flags

Well considering that a recent post was picking up on a negative aspect of social media…Facebook in particular, here is a study published last week that has a happier outcome.

We already know that in the brain there are these 'mirror neurons' that pick up on and replicate the emotional status of the people we spend time with. So if your friend is happy, happy, happy you cant help but pick up approx 40% of their happiness and become that yourself. It makes sense in so many situations. We all talk about the 'atmosphere' at a party or concert and the feeling in the crowd. 

I saw a comedian in a club a while ago and everyone at the gig laughed like loons at his set, then he was on tv and excited I told hubby 'Oh this guys brilliant!' Well, honestly not a titter ensued from either of us, 'You must have been drunk when you watched this 'eejit'' was his withering critique.

Our brains' mirror neurons underlie our intensely social nature and the effect is known as 'emotional contagion.'
So we are all social animals and this mirroring strengthens these bonds of shared experience. A well known phenomena of face to face interaction. But what about tapping away at a keyboard, usually alone, no face to face, no real time social interaction….can this create the same emotional impact?

Well, these researchers analysed over a billion status updates on Facebook and then used a piece of software called the Linguistic Enquiry Word Count that assessed the emotional content of each one.

Sure enough they found that an unhappy status updates inspired an increase in negative posts. However happy status updates had a far more powerful impact on friends own status updates. They inspired a far greater number of happy posts.

"Our study suggests that people are not just choosing other people like themselves to associate with but actually causing their friends' emotional expressions to change," said lead author James Fowler, professor of political science in the Division of Social Sciences and of medical genetics in the School of Medicine at UC San Diego.

"We have enough power in this data set to show that emotional expressions spread online and also that positive expressions spread more than negative," he adds.

And the happy conclusion is that 'Happy status updates are more 'contagious' than unhappy updates'

A picture with the text, I'm feeling what you're feeling


Anxiety over Facebook photos linked to eating disorders.

a photo of a girl wearing an 'untag' me t-shirt

The frenzy to psychoanalyse social media effects on its millions of users has resulted in an explosion of studies, experiments and k…k…k….k…..KRAZY theories.

This one however rings true….sadly.

A study was taken of Facebook users, 95% of whom were considered to be 'normal' users. Their criteria was summed up as an average of 3 visits to Facebook a day of about 20 minutes duration each visit. I can get with that…..it doesn't seem excessive considering that Facebook is now so much more than a social site. People use it for business, playing games, watching videos and catching up amongst other things.

So the female participants were graded on their Facebook usage, on how much value they placed on 'likes' and how often they would 'untag' themselves from photos.

Women who spent more time on Facebook reported a higher incidence of appearance-focused behaviors and reported greater eating pathology. These women were more likely to give greater significance to receiving comments and "likes" on status updates, frequently untagged pictures of themselves and compared their photos to friends.

The fact is that Facebook is probably the epitome of a globally successful social media website and regretfully is equally as successful as a social comparison website.

The effect is most notable amongst younger women and has been shown to have a causal link between self perception, body image and anxiety. The researchers conclude that…….

"Facebook merges powerful peer influences with broader societal messages that focus on the importance of women's appearance into a single platform that women carry with them throughout the day. As researchers and clinicians attempt to understand and address risk factors for eating disorders, greater attention is needed to the emerging role of social media in young people's lives."

Our relationship with food and our own body image is cemented deeply into the unconscious mind in these socially developmental years. The effects can last a lifetime and if the mindset of self worth being linked to size and shape is adopted it can prove to be an unhappy consequence. 

In my practice we see many clients with weight management issues and it can be wonderful to deal effectively with the specifics of different food cravings and addictions….happily knocking chocolate on the head or seamlessly giving pasties the swerve, crisps can be cardboard and unappetising and portion sizes reduced to satisfying. However the greatest life changing or should that be diet changing work we do is challenging the existing mindset. You think differently therefore you behave differently.