Social media provides a pulse

There are millions of tweets every day, and the government is paying scientists to read them.Two UVM applied mathematicians, Peter Dodds and Chris Danforth, are using the Internet social networking phenomenon to research the happiness of large-scale written expression.”Hundreds of millions of people are interacting online using Facebook, Twitter, and other media.” Danforth said. “For the first time in history, we are able to observe people at the level of a population.””There is an opportunity [for researchers] to observe a huge sample size of people in a natural environment…and take the pulse of [their] happiness,” Danforth said.In the past, governments have used the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a measure of economic performance, or some form of well-being survey to evaluate how well a society was functioning.But with phones and computers allowing people to constantly update their status in writing, researchers found a jackpot of honest insights into individual lives from which to measure the Gross Domestic Happiness (GDH) of a society. Dodds and Danforth published a research paper together earlier this year describing happiness trends in songs, blogs and presidents’ State of the Union addresses.  The continued research is being funded by a five-year $678,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.”[Our research] fits into the bigger program of bringing large scale data analysis to the social sciences,” said Dodds.The pair has analyzed more then one billion tweets (Twitter updates of 140 characters or less) in the past year, and nine million sentences from 2.3 million blogs, looking for 1,000 specific words.”We look at emotive words; words with an emotional association,” Danforth said as he explained how each word has a happiness score between one and nine based on a large psychological study of people’s reactions to certain words.Words like love and paradise score between eight and nine,  paper scores around a five, while the words rape and suicide both score a 1.25.The State of the Union speeches going back to George Washington don’t show a strong statistical correlation, but John F. Kennedy’s speech has the highest happiness valence, according to the study.A similar word reaction study was conducted in Spanish, explained Dodds, which found a 90 percent correlation of words’ happiness ratings between languages.Dodds said that the measurement of happiness may not be perfect, but it is consistent, showing a rise in happiness on weekends and holidays.”[We’re] not trying to infer the intent of the person communicating,” Danforth said.  “The goal is to describe the behavior, then understand it later.” “Theory can only take you so far, ” Dodds said, “so let’s try describing something.”