Twitter Culture: Atheist Tweets More Analytical, Christian Tweets Less Negative
    By News Staff | June 26th 2013 01:01 PM | 7 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments

    A computer analysis of nearly 2 million Tweets on the Twitter online social network revealed another divide in the religious culture war - while atheists engage in more analytical thinking, Christians use more positive words and fewer negative words.

    To identify Christian and atheist Twitter users, the researchers studied the tweets of more than 16,000 followers of a few prominent Christian and atheist personalities on Twitter. They analyzed the tweets for their emotional content (the use of more positive or negative words), the frequency of words (such as "friend" and "brother") that are related to social processes, and the frequency of their use of words (such as "because" and "think") that are associated with an analytical thinking style.

    Overall, tweets by Christians had more positive and less negative content than tweets by atheists, the researchers report. A less analytical thinking style among Christians and more frequent use of social words were correlated with the use of words indicating positive emotions, the researchers said. Christians also were more likely than atheists to tweet about their social relationships, the results found. 

    "Whether religious people experience more or less happiness is an important question in itself," the authors of the new analysis wrote. "But to truly understand how religion and happiness are related we must also understand why the two may be related."

    University of Illinois psychology professor Jesse Preston (left), graduate student Ryan Ritter and graduate student Ivan Hernandez (not pictured) investigated the social, emotional and analytical content of the tweets of more than 16,000 Christian and atheist followers on Twitter. Credit: L. Brian Stauffer

    "If religious people are indeed happier than nonreligious people, differences in social support and thinking style may help to explain why," said University of Illinois graduate student Ryan Ritter, who conducted the research with University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign psychology professor Jesse Preston and graduate student Ivan Hernandez.

    The findings are also in line with other studies linking greater levels of social connectedness to higher well-being, Ritter said.

    "Religious communities are very social. Just being a member of a religious group connects people to others, and it may be this social connection that can make people happier," Preston said. "On the other hand, atheists had a more analytical thinking style in their tweets than Christians, which at extremes can make people less happy."

    Previous research has found a positive association between religion and well-being among Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims. But most such studies rely on individuals to report how satisfied they are with their lives or their experience of positive and negative emotions at a given time.

    "What's great about Twitter is that people are reporting their experiences – good or bad – as they occur," Preston said. "As researchers, we do not need to ask them how they feel because they are already telling us."

    Christians appear to be happier than atheists on Twitter, but the authors caution that the results are correlational and "this does not mean atheists are unhappy overall or doomed to be miserable," Preston said. "If religion improves happiness indirectly through other factors, those benefits could also be found outside religious groups."

    The findings are reported in the journal Social Psychological & Personality Science. Reference: Ryan S. Ritter, Jesse Lee Preston, and Ivan Hernandez, 'Happy Tweets: Christians Are Happier, More Socially Connected, and Less Analytical Than Atheists on Twitter', doi: 10.1177/1948550613492345, June 18th, 2013


    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    I think that this joke gives some understanding of why this scientific research showing Christian tweets might on average be less negative than Atheist tweets could be true :-

    The christian lady next door to the atheist
    There was a Christian lady who lived next door to an atheist. Every day, when the lady prayed, the atheist guy could hear her. He thought to himself, "She sure is crazy, praying all the time like that. Doesn't she know there isn't a God?"

    Many times while she was praying, he would go to her house and harass her by saying "Lady, why do you pray all the time? Don't you know there is no God?" But she kept on praying. One day, she ran out of groceries. As usual, she was praying to the Lord explaining her situation and thanking Him for what He was gonna do. As usual, the atheist heard her praying and thought to himself, "Humph! I'll fix her."

    He went to the grocery store, bought a whole bunch of groceries, took them to her house, dropped them off on the front porch, rang the door bell and then hid in the bushes to see what she would do. When she opened the door and saw the groceries, she began to praise the Lord with all her heart, jumping, singing and shouting everywhere! The atheist then jumped out of the bushes and told her, "You ol' crazy lady, God didn't buy you those groceries, I bought those groceries!" At hearing this, she broke out and started running down the street, shouting and praising the Lord.

    When he finally caught her, he asked what her problem was. She said, "I knew the Lord would provide me with some groceries, but I didn't know he was gonna make the devil pay for them!"

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    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    I believe Christians DO use more positive words but that shouldn't be associated with happiness. It's a cultural phenomena of that specific group.. A sort of peer pressure to always come off positive. Just like when I was an athlete in college the locker room culture was swearing and mocking each other. We were the happiest lot you'd ever seen.

    Right.  The psychologists are a rare group in that they highlight that it's correlational - a whole bunch of social studies using much a much shoddier hypothesis and methodology (surveys of psychology students) are happy to imply links are causative. So University of Illinois is probably a pretty good place to get a psychology degree.
    A friend of mine is a yoga instructor and by default very "spiritual" with the everyday posting of fluffy bunnies, Buddhist happy thoughts and positive comments on other people's positive comments. This same person is also privately one of the most depressed people I know.

    Personally I find extremists unsettling and rarely trustworthy in relation to their emotions. Anything to fit in.
    "Oh I'm happy! Didn't you see that cute puppy I posted with the sunset in the background in the field of sunflowers?"

    Joseph Johnson
    The fact that Christians are more positive has nothing to do with happiness.   They believe that God will make things better, so they accept the situations they are in.

    The notion that atheist analyze their situations and then do something about it, does not make them unhappy.  To be in a crappy situation, and analyze and tweet (discuss) that situation, makes it easier to fix or correct that situation.  I think it would make people happier to actually fix problems than to just accept them.

    If you think this is a rather analytical answer, guilty as charged.  A HAPPY non-christian.
    As everyone on a science site already knows, when you make sweeping generalizations like "atheist" or "christian" you're going to hear bullshit.

    So what possible difference does it make if people do or don't convey faux happiness?