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What Your Facebook Updates Say About You, Your Faith, and Your Mental Health


Nov 18 2013
New study connects emotional wellbeing with churchy status updates.

"What you say flows from what is in your heart." Jesus spoke these words (Luke 6:45) in reference to good and evil. These days, what we say gets documented on social media, and a recent study examined whether our updates on Facebook actually flow from our hearts enough to give a sense of our emotional health.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania collected questionnaires and Facebook status updates from 75,000 people to find out how the language we use on Facebook reflects who we are and whether that language can be used to identify age, gender, and personality.

Not only could researchers predict a participant's gender based on Facebook updates with 92 percent accuracy, they also could measure emotional stability and neuroticism.

According to the "word clouds" created from frequently used words, researchers found emotional stability is associated with playing sports. One researcher, Lyle Ungar, suggested, "We should explore the possibility that neurotic individuals would become more emotionally stable if they played more sports." Makes sense.

But even a glance at the word cloud for emotional stability shows other apparent connections to emotional health as well: family, friends, and faith. People with high levels of emotional stability also frequently posted Facebook updates referencing church, Christ, and being "blessed."

Such comments, quickly fired off from laptops and phones so commonly they often read like clichés, may be indicators of soul-deep health. Although usually calculated to some degree, Facebook posts tend to be more quick, candid, and mundane than other forms of written communication. Perhaps in a medium given largely to commenting on the everyday, we reveal our hearts more openly.

Prior studies have shown the value of both physical exercise and the exercise of faith—the status update topics researchers associated with positive wellbeing. In support of the power of faith, one study showed a strong positive correlation between strength of belief in God and the effectiveness of treatment for mental illness. Another indicated that religious affiliation decreases risk of suicide. Several have shown faith plays a powerful role in promoting healing not only mentally, but in general. And of course, surrender to a "higher power" is the cornerstone of 12-step programs for recovery from addiction—which is itself deeply linked to mental illness and emotional difficulties.

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