Unpleasant weather triggers nasty emotions on social media, research shows

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Heat waves and downpours are serious mood killers, a massive analysis of Twitter conversations confirms. The international study is part of efforts to understand how climate change is affecting mental health around the world.

Researchers examined tweets from 190 countries, almost all of them on Earth, and looked at how “positive” and “negative” expressions changed during extreme heat and rainfall. Unsurprisingly, they found that during bad weather, negative feelings became louder and positive expressions became scarcer in each region. While it may seem obvious that bad weather can put people in a bad mood, researchers see the consistency of the findings as a warning sign that people are struggling to adapt to climate change.

“We see very little evidence of adaptation”

“Currently, we see very little evidence of adaptation in how these new extreme events emerging globally affect human sentiment,” said Kelton Minor, a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University who presented the study at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting. this week.

There has been research on “climate anxiety” that grows as the environmental impacts of fossil fuel burning grow. And other studies have already linked worsening heat to increases in hospital visits linked to mental health and suicide risk. On top of those more serious threats, researchers behind this new study also wanted to understand how extreme weather caused by climate change may have more subtle effects on mood and well-being.

The study’s authors analyzed 7.7 billion geolocated tweets from some 43,000 different provinces or administrative regions between 2015 and 2021. They compared tweets during severe heat and rain with tweets from the same locations during other times of more typical weather.

To measure sentiment across 13 languages, they used dictionaries commonly used by researchers to rate language as more positive or negative. You can try a demo of the tool online, called Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC). After plugging in a tweet from a To forget headline of Hurricane Ida in 2021: “Shape-shifting storms like Ida are cities’ worst nightmare,” the tool gives the text a score of 12.5 for “negative tone.” The average score for negative tone in social media language is just 2.34, according to the tool.

Minor and his colleagues found that, on average, heat waves and heavy rainfall amplified negative feelings even more than daylight savings time when people miss an hour of sleep. 2021 was a particularly bad year, with record jumps in negative sentiment and dips in positive sentiment.

“It was off the charts”

That year, more than 1,000 people were killed in a historic heat wave in the northwestern United States and southwestern Canada. During the record-breaking heat, negative sentiment on Twitter increased nearly tenfold compared to average U.S. heat waves, according to the study by Minor and his co-author Nick Obradovich, chief scientist at nonprofit Project Regeneration.

“It was off the charts,” Minor tells me The edge. The heightened emotions in 2021 are more evidence that people aren’t really adapting to weather changes around the world, Minor says.

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