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emotionsAlthough we may not catch colds from friends on the Internet, a study conducted between 2009 and 2014 at the University of California has concluded that moods and emotions most definitely do go viral online. Furthermore, according to Socialbakers.com, as of January 2014, Pakistan has 12.8 million monthly active users on social media, with over 60% of them falling in the 18 to 24 age bracket. Given these statistics, it is vital that parents, teachers and counsellors understand how feelings spread digitally.

Psychologists believe that social media influences how people feel ‘moment-to-moment’ and how satisfied they are with their lives in general. The same study revealed that positive expressions spread more quickly on Facebook (a positive post creates additional 1.75 posts, while a negative post creates 1.29 additional posts), and positive tweets are three times more likely to be ‘contracted’ than negative ones.

These results suggest that posting happy thoughts online has a ripple effect, generating clusters of ‘happy’ people that transcend geographical boundaries. This means that social networks can be used by life coaches, psychologists and psychiatrists to supplement psychotherapy programmes.

However, there is a downside to always being digitally connected to thousands of people. James Fowler, Professor of Medical Genetics at the University of California, who led the study, warns: “Feelings of jealousy and resentment often pervade when observing the positive things in others’ lives.”

Therefore, according to Fowler, spending over four hours a day browsing news feeds of contacts can cause depression and feelings of inadequacy, especially when you see people in your social circle sharing updates of exotic vacations, shopping sprees and happy families.

– Dr Waqar Saeed
The writer is a physician.

First published in the Health Advertiser Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on August 10, 2014.