Everyone has an opinion.  With the invention of Twitter, people can broadcast their opinions to the world within seconds, but tweeters may want to proceed with caution.  While tweeting may seem like a healthy way to express negative emotions, a new study links negative tweets – particularly angry ones – to higher risks for heart disease.  In addition, the research shows that Twitter can be used to predict rates of heart disease within communities.

Previous studies have linked a number of psychological factors like anger and stress to heart disease as well as lifestyle responses like smoking, drinking alcohol, poor diet, and isolation.  The new study published in Psychological Science shows that researchers can use Twitter to take the psychological temperature of a community, which reveals more information about risks for heart disease than former factors ever did.


Related: Seven Ways to Filter out Stress


With previous studies already linking language and emotional states, the research team wanted to see if they could link tweets to physical outcomes.  In addition to recording rates for heart disease within counties, public health officials document rates for smoking, obesity, hypertension, and exercise.  Researchers attempted to match the public health data with their own data collected from public tweets made between 2009 and 2010 from roughly 1,300 U. S. counties.

Results showed that adverse topics and negative language using expletives or words like "hate" were strongly linked to higher rates for heart disease, even after accounting for education and income.  Happy topics and language revealing positive experiences or optimism using words like "wonderful" or "friends" were linked to reduced rates for heart disease.

In the past, gathering data through surveys has proven expensive, time-consuming, and somewhat limiting.  Because people use varied language to express a wide range of emotions, the data collected through Twitter is much richer, and the social platform might be useful for predicting a wide range of diseases.


More Information about Negative Emotions

Emotions like anger, hostility, and stress elicit a fight-or-flight response, triggering the release of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.  In addition, negative emotions temporarily raise blood pressure, promote inflammation, and affect heart rhythms.  According to WebMD, chronic anger or hostility in adults with no former history of heart problems raises risks for the development of heart disease by up to 19 percent.  Chronic anger or hostility in people already diagnosed with heart disease raises risks for a poor outcome by 24 percent.


Getting a Handle on Anger

People who are prone to quick bouts of anger can take advantage of the following tips to reduce anger levels:

  • Get 30 minutes of daily cardiovascular exercise
  • Eat a nutritious diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, low-fat dairy, healthy fats, nuts, and seeds
  • Engage in daily relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, tai chi, guided visualization, deep breathing, reading, or listening to soft music
  • Take time to examine feelings, and think about possible outcomes before responding to outside stimuli