Study: Social media posts can affect emotions just as much as in-person contact

(WJLA) - It's a familiar scene almost everywhere you go - posting on, or peering at, social media.

Arlington resident Maggie Burke says she can't get through the day without getting online.

"[I use it] probably every hour of the day, I would say," Burke said. "[Mostly] Facebook, and recently I just started using Twitter a lot more."

But, according to a new study, what you're posting on your social media accounts is impacting how others feel.

Professor James Fowler of UC San Diego is the author of a new study that looked at 100 million anonymous Facebook status updates in the nation's top 100 cities, over a three-year period.

Fowler said he discovered people no longer need to be in the same room with one another to affect an emotional change.

"I was really surprised to find that folks in Washington, D.C. don't just affect people in Washington, D.C. - what they put out there affects people in California and all over the world," Fowler explained. "That's what this study shows us."

Fowler says positive posts have a two-for-one bump, causing positive emotions to spread faster than negative emotions.

He said one reason might be because people tend to self-censor when putting things online.

Still, Fowler says there is a downside to this emotional connection through technology.

"Emotions affect things like the stock market and politics - so you can imagine, now we can collectively cause more instability in the world," he explained.

D.C. psychologist Gregory Jones said, knowing this information, people should remember the power and influence of online posts.

"People are going to connect in that experience because we all have the same shared human emotions," Jones said.

Maggie Burke said she felt the online influence earlier this week.

"A friend of mine just had a baby yesterday, and I just then felt so excited," she said.

What isn't clear at this point is what would happen if we had a campaign to have millions post positive updates online - could we make the world happier? Professor Fowler said that's the subject of his next study.