The research in question was meant to identify the effect of emotional contagion – a phenomenon in which people transfer their emotions to their peers using various modes of communication. The experiment was organized on Facebook and measured the effect of including words with positive and negative emotional load. The results indicated that a higher proportion of positively- or negatively-charged words prompted a respective increase in target audience’s posts.
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The results of the study demonstrate causation. There are several indications in favor of this suggestion. First, the research team has clearly defined both the dependent and independent variables and formulated a hypothesis that specified the expected result. The researchers were able to manipulate the independent variable (the proportion of emotionally-charged words) directly. In each case, the change in the dependent variable (the content of users’ posts) changed in accordance with the prediction (Kramer, Guillory, & Hancock, 2014). In addition, the research in question included a control condition – a period in which newsfeed was not modified and constructed randomly (Kramer et al., 2014). As a result, the change in positive and negative charge of the sample population’s posts was less prominent than during an experimental condition. This result is also consistent with the principles of causation rather than correlation.
It is worth noting that the research had at least one ethical issue pertinent to it. Specifically, it is evident that the informed consent was not obtained from the audience prior to an experiment, which is an absolute requirement by today’s standards of psychological experiments. In response, the company has argued that such consent was obtained during the registration process (Goel, 2014). However, it remains unclear whether a one-time agreement of an unspecified duration could be considered a sufficient precaution to prevent the possible undesirable effects of participating in the experiment.
Goel, V. (2014). Facebook tinkers with users’ emotions in news feed experiment, stirring outcry. The New York Times. Web.
Kramer, A. D., Guillory, J. E., & Hancock, J. T. (2014). Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(24), 8788-8790.