Reality Check: Facebook and Feelings

Some folks choose to be annoyed when they perceive that they have been treated like guinea pigs! So there was some outrage when the results of a Facebook study were recently published in a scientific journal.

Here’s the gist of the story. Facebook scientists conducted an experiment on some users to learn whether emotions expressed on Facebook are contagious. They fiddled (in an automated way) with the emotional content of people’s news feeds and then measured whether people’s posts became positive or negative.

What do you think they found? Do you think that the emotional tone of what you read has an impact on what you say?

Their results said, “Yes.” The (simplified) implication is that when folks read positive expressions, they write more positive news themselves. When exposed to negative expressions, they express more negatives.

Does this surprise you? If you are in an environment where you hear encouraging, optimistic stories of people supporting each other, overcoming difficulties, working, succeeding, caring—does that affect your emotional state?

Conversely, if you hear stories of despair, violence, injustice, especially if they are about people in circumstances similar to yours, does that affect you?

Our environment can influence us and the opportunity for emotional manipulation might seem horrifying. You could choose to feel helpless as a result. However, there are other choices. For example, in this situation, what can you control?

You can control whether or not you use Facebook, but I know that for many of you—from kiddies to grandmas—that’s unrealistic.

Besides, while Facebook is the example that I have chosen to highlight, it’s certainly not the only potential emotional manipulator. Even in this great era of world-wide communication, we can’t know everything. News is filtered. Someone decides whether a story is told or ignored, and if told, with what slant.

A tenet of choice theory is self-evaluation—try something, see how it goes, and assess how well it’s working for you. Then, use that knowledge as you make your next choices. Thus, we can become more and more effective, also known as continuous improvement!

A suggestion is to be aware of what feelings you want and what in your environment you can control. If you often find yourself feeling emotions that are not what you want, take a look at the influences you are exposed to (what you are seeing, reading, hearing).

The publicity around the Facebook experiment provided an opportunity to remind us that our influences have an impact on our feelings, thoughts, and actions. While we may not be able to control all of the influences, news, and information that surround us, we can at least be aware that we are getting a filtered version.

If you want to feel discouraged, pessimistic, or angry, you can easily find inputs to support those emotions. However, if you want to feel optimistic, encouraged, and satisfied, look for and surround yourself with examples and influences to support those emotions. They exist; even if they are not on the news (or on your Facebook feed.)

How do you take charge of your own emotional influences?

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