Resilience and Big Data

I had the opportunity this past week to speak with Dr. Marty Seligman from the University or Pennsylvania who is the founder of positive psychology and a groundbreaker in the area of resilience.

He shared about a project he is working on that is using big data to assess the health and wellness of communities across the country. His research is important because most research around things like employee satisfaction and even happiness is based on survey type data such as employee engagement studies.

Seligman and his colleagues instead collected data from Twitter posts and analyzed the words that were used in different counties across the country. They were able to collect enough tweets to cover over 1300 counties and converted the data into word clusters that reflected behaviors, emotions and attitudes.

The researchers found that negative emotional language such as words like “hate” or “despise”, were strongly correlated with heart disease and death. Positive emotional language such as “strong”, “opportunities” and “hope” showed the opposite relationship suggesting that positive experiences may be protective against heart disease.

The importance of this research is two fold. First and most importantly it points out that more positive emotions are healthier for us and that by considering how we can change our language to a more positive frame we can reduce the risk of coronary disease. This is a relatively easy and straightforward resilience strategy.

Second it points out that by collecting significant amounts of “unobtrusive data” rather than purposefully collected survey data, we can begin to make assumptions and develop interventions that can impact large groups of people whether they be communities or our corporations.

Think about your language today and see if you can build more positives into your words.

© Richard Citrin, All rights reserved, 2015


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