We mirror the emotions of those we see online and seek out people who share our emotions, according to a study that examined over 2000 video blogs, or vlogs on YouTube. Being affected by others' emotions is known as "contagion," said researchers from Tilburg University in the Netherlands. People also seek out others like themselves, or in this case, people with similar outlooks and moods, known as "homophily."
"Our research is a reminder that the people we encounter online influence our everyday emotions - being exposed to happy (or angry) people can make us happier (or angry) ourselves," said Hannes Rosenbusch, lead author of the study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
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With almost five billion videos watched on YouTube daily, the researchers focused on vlogs and vloggers. Vloggers share emotions and experiences in their videos, providing a reliable source of data.
The researchers focused on studying more popular vlogs, with a minimum of 10,000 subscribers. Some of their sample vlogs had millions of subscribers.
To measure if people watching vlogs experienced emotional contagion or homophily, the team studied words and emotions expressed by the vloggers and analysed the emotional language of online comments. They modelled the effect of both immediate (contagion) and sustained (homophily) emotional reactions.
The team found evidence that there is both a sustained and an immediate effect that leads to YouTuber emotion correlating with audience emotion. When a YouTuber posts a video with a generally positive tone, the audience reacts with heightened positive emotions.The same is true for other emotional states.
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The effects of video emotions on audience emotions probably comprises of a collection of mechanisms like contagion, empathy, and sympathy. This study is the first to use a video-focused social media source like YouTube to explore contagion and homophily. Other researchers have found similar results looking at text-based social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.
"Our social life might move more and more to the online sphere, but our emotions and the way we behave towards one another will always be steered by basic psychological processes," said Rosenbusch.