A new study finds that pleasant community-wide surprises such as sunshine after a week of rain or a win by a local sports team are linked to a change in the city’s overall mood — and an increased chance that its residents will do risky things like gamble.
Previous psychology experiments in the lab have shown that people tend to feel better and take more risks when something goes better than they had expected. In the new study, the research team, led by McGill University in Quebec, wanted to find out whether the same held true at a city-wide level.
For the study, the team used automated techniques to gauge the “sentiment” of over 5 million Twitter posts from 2012 and 2013, geotagged to six different large U.S. cities: New York, Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles. This allowed the researchers to figure out the mood of the city on any given day.
“We have found that Twitter users serve as the ‘canaries’ of their communities,” says Johannes Eichstaedt, Ph.D., a computational social scientist at the University of Pennsylvania and the co-author of the paper.
“What they say on Twitter is representative of the mood shared on the streets and in the local communities. So, using artificial intelligence, we were able to extract information about the mood of the community as a whole from what those on Twitter say.”
The research team analyzed the language expressed in social media data to determine how the mood of the tweets — and hence of the cities — could be understood on a day-to-day basis. They then set out to investigate whether, by looking at unexpected positive outcomes (such as unexpected sports wins or a sunny day after days of rain), they could predict when a city would be in a good mood.
Their next step was to look into how these positive city moods were associated with increased risk-taking. So they looked at whether increased purchases of daily lottery tickets in Chicago and New York — when there was no particular incentive to buy on one day compared with another since the odds and payoffs remained the same — was linked with a positive city-mood, as reflected on social media.
They founds a subtle correlation; for example, a “good mood” day in Chicago and New York City predicts an increase in spending on gambling of close to 2.5 percent per person per day in particularly reactive neighborhoods.
“By using social media data we were able to examine the impact of collective events upon subjective well-being at the scale of large cities,” said lead author Dr. Ross Otto from McGill’s Psychology Department.
“This information about how fleeting city moods are tied in with risk-taking behavior could potentially help those who want to discourage others from gambling decide when their responsible gambling promotion efforts will be most needed.”
The findings are published in the journal PLOS ONE.
Source: McGill University