Something in the air? Study finds cities experience ‘moods’ influenced by sports, sunshine

MONTREAL — Is it just a coincidence when you find that your neighbors and co-workers are feeling the same extra burst of pep in their step as you, or is it something in the air? A new study finds that cities experience “moods” that are influenced by specific events, with upbeat attitudes even linked to people taking more gambles on a given day.

Researchers from McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania used Twitter to monitor the “sentiment” of more than 5 million tweets from 2012 and 2013 by people in Boston, Chicago, Dallas/Fort-Worth, Los Angeles, New York City, and San Francisco. They found similarities in the tones and attitudes of posts by users in the same cities, showing that people often tended to be as upbeat or discouraged as others in the same region.

“We have found that Twitter users serve as the ‘canaries’ of their communities,” says Johannes Eichstaedt, a computational social scientist at the University of Pennsylvania and the co-author of the paper, in a media release. “What they say on Twitter is representative of the mood shared on the streets and in the local communities. So, using artificial intelligence, we were able to extract information about the mood of the community as a whole from what those on Twitter say.”

What’s more, the authors found that when something specific happens that causes the day to be brightened for a large population, particularly a sports team winning a big game or a day of warm sunshine in the middle of a cold and gloomy winter, not only does the mood of the city improve, but citizens are more likely to take greater risks.

Researchers studied lottery ticket sales in Chicago and New York on days when there was no specific reason for people to buy any more tickets than usual. They determined that when a city’s mood was more positive, more lottery tickets were sold, indicating a correlation with risk-taking on those happier days. That said, the effect wasn’t massive: there was just a 2.5 percent daily increase in spending on gambling per person.

“By using social media data we were able to examine the impact of collective events upon subjective well-being at the scale of large cities,” notes lead author Ross Otto, of McGill’s Psychology Department. “This information about how fleeting city moods are tied in with risk-taking behavior could potentially help those who want to discourage others from gambling decide when their responsible gambling promotion efforts will be most needed.”

The study was published in the journal PLOS One.

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