Friday, October 24, 2014

bit of contagion

Jeff Hancock was our guest at today's "Databite." His spiel concerned the Facebook emotional contagion study, about which, justly, many people continue to write. A tidbit fell out of Jeff's talk and caught my attention.

The Facebook study grew from prior work that challenged the contention that emotional contagion, observable in face to face interactions, doesn't happen in text-only situations. You know: no one can tell you're being sarcastic in email! The prior work was undertaken in a lab setting. Subjects would communicate through a text-based chat program. One subject would be manipulated so as to be in a negative emotional state, and then the researchers would measure whether that negative feeling spread to the interlocutor. But! In order to overcome the therapeutic effect wherein simply communicating with someone else helps you feel better, researchers had to devise a means of maintaining half the dyad in a persistent negative state.

Their solution? The experimentally contagious subject would wear headphones and listen to a certain heavy metal band during the chat session. Jeff noted parenthetically that most people are indeed negative-ized by Mastodon, one of his favorite bands.

If Mastodon is all that's required for a persistent negative state, I thought, then what state am I in the rest of the time? when I'm listening to, I don't know – here's a conservative possibility – The Abominable Iron Sloth:

1 comment:

  1. "Likewise, the notorious Facebook experiment on 'emotional contagion' was understandably controversial. But would it be implausible to suggest that people were also enchanted by it? Was there not also a mystical seduction at work, precisely because it suggested some higher power, invisible to the naked eye? We assume, rationally, that the presence of such a power is dangerous. But it is no contradiction to suggest that it might also be comforting or mesmerizing. To feel part of some grand technocratic plan, even one that is never made public, has the allure of immersing the self in a collective, in a manner that had seemed to have been left on the political scrapheap of the 20th century" (William Davies, The Data Sublime).