Next time you want to cheer someone up or encourage them to swear a little bit less, here's a novel idea: tell that unhappy soul to sod off. As it transpires, the further we travel, the happier we are and the less we swear.
That's the startling conclusion reached by a group of researchers who have been analysing tweets to gauge how of moods change when alter our location.
The researchers, led Christopher Danforth a computer scientist at the University of Vermont, analysed a collection of 37 million geo-located tweets to analyst the movement and mood of around 180,000 people.
Because Twitter allows users to tag their messages with GPS co-ordinates, it was relatively simple to assess users' movement patterns. But the researchers wanted to know what impact their movements had on their mood.
Danforth and his team have previously used their so-called hedometer to measure the relatively happiness of different US states – Hawaii was, perhaps unsurprisingly the happiest; Louisiana the saddest.
The system is based on the frequency happy word or sad words appear in tweets, with these signals determined by Mechanical Turk workers. So for example, the inclusion of words such as 'great' or 'haha” were regarded as happy, while 'hate' or 'damn' were considered to be negative.
The researchers noted most users had two main locations they tweeted from, which they reasoned to represent people's home and work locations – which they dubbed their expected locations.
The tweets made when users were away from their expected locations reveal that the number of times they mentioned food or used happy words increased.
It may seem intuitive that people's mood would improve if they ventured out for a meal – but the team's work suggests that there's more these changes than simple dining out.
“Individuals who travel farther use positive, food related words more frequently, and negative words and profanity less frequently,” they wrote.
Danforth and his team plan to put their hedometer to other tests, examining how other factors affect people's mood. It's the type of large-scale social investigation that's only possible thanks to the adoption of smartphones and technology such as Twitter, and provides a hitherto unknown insight into the human condition.
Of course, the one thing it won't be able to show is how much happier people are when they turn their smartphones off.
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