|Example of a high emotion post used in the study.|
In an experimental study about language's effects on online communities, subjects were shown one of four posts that seeked support due to a recent breakup. The four posts differed only in the amount of emotional language used. The subject's were asked to rate the post on a six item index that measured how likely they were to respond, and it appeared consistent that an increase in emotional language also meant an increased likelihood in responding.
Higher amounts of emotional language in posts relates to higher amounts of emotional language in responses.
Not only are online readers more likely to respond to posts with a higher emotional content, readers are also more likely to respond with emotional language themselves. This is in part due to a phenomenon called emotional contagion, where a transmission of emotion occurs from one person to another. In the study above, the subjects were asked to respond to the breakup post. For the posts containing higher amounts of emotional content, subjects' responses also contained significantly more emotional words.
Local student expresses interest in online posts that discuss conflict and drama, both of which tend to be more emotional in nature.
It is not surprising that emotional language catches readers' attentions better than factual language. In this article by the Boston Globe, it is argued that fictional pieces are not worse than factual pieces. Studies show that when reading non-fiction, people read with a mental shield up, and become more critical and skeptical. However, when reading fiction, "we drop our intellectual guard. We are moved emotionally, and this seems to make us rubbery and easy to shape."
In the same way, when reading more emotional content in online posts, readers are more likely to be affected. Readers are able to relate better to posts that contain emotion, because it "enhances our ability to understand other people; it promotes a deep morality that cuts across religious and political creeds." Thus, readers are able to connect with the post and respond back with their own emotions.
The type of emotion used in a post also has an effect on the response. A more specific application of emotional contagion, this suggests that positive emotional language in an original post will encourage responders to write back positively while negative emotional language in a post will encourage responders to respond back negatively.
Several theories exist to support why the responses would match the post in the type of emotion used. Apart from emotional contagion, mimicry also "appears to be a naturally occurring part of human interactions", and in a conversation, it would be described as a form of linguistic style matching. Humans naturally have a tendency to agree rather than dissent. Another theory is that participants would be inclined to reinforce any positive outlook that the original poster (OP) had, thus explaining why they would echo positive language.
Although negative posts were met with negative emotional language, the responses also tended to be more helpful.
Scale of 1 (not at all) to 5 (extremely)
PE: positive emotion; NE: negative emotion
Readers of negative emotion posts also felt more inclined to respond to the post than to positive emotion posts. As seen in the graphic, the original poster's ability to cope was vastly higher when he used more positive emotion. Thus, the reader did not feel as much a need to respond. However when negative emotion was highly used, the reader felt more willing to respond, thought the OP was more distressed, and thought that the OP would have a poorer time coping.
Use of emotional language can foster the success of online support groups.
As seen, emotional language (especially negative emotion) generates more responses from readers by providing an emotional bond between them and the poster. However this was merely examined in an experimental setting. In application, this naturalistic study focuses on members of an HIV/AIDS online support group. Members in this group share their illness experiences with emotional language to create a more vibrant community that encourages members to stay.
According to the study, "the online support group is a unique cultural forum, because it problematizes emotions as a moral component of interaction." By using emotion as an integral part of discussion, members of this HIV/AIDS group are able to bond through their experiences. Furthermore, "the public sharing of emotional narratives renders the support group an empathic community that is transient and has a purely linguistic existence." Based on findings from the previous study, the emotional narratives in this group will be met with similar emotions, and thus provide a bedrock of support.
With the Internet rapidly becoming a norm in communication, the peculiarities of online posting remain a fascinating and important field of study. Based on current research, online communication seems to be a fairly positive development. Posts with positive emotion are responded with in the same manner to reinforce positive outlooks and posts with negative emotion are met with empathy and helpfulness. The use of emotional language has already seen use in many support groups and as technology becomes more pertinent, emotional language in online posting will only become more significant.